I love me a craft cocktail (or four) on a tropical vacation. Or on a Friday night. 

Okay… me and alcohol have had our fair share of rendézvous. We’ve got a history and while it may not be *healthy*, for better or worse, it’s still a part of my social life at this time.

I also have a history of anxiety and for a long time, I didn’t think that my weekend alcohol use could be STILL affecting me mid-week. I thought there MUST be something else. But once I started to learn about the science of how alcohol contributes to anxiety, I took a long hard look at my relationship with it and how frequently I used it.

Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoy alcohol (I’m looking at you, mezcal) in moderation but when I notice my anxiety is starting to spiral, alcohol is one of the first things to go.

This blog isn’t about judging your choices nor is it a “drinking is bad for you, mmkay” blog. It’s about knowing how your daily (or weekend) choices can affect your health and anxiety longer than just that next-day hangxiety.

If you suffer from debilitating anxiety, I want to offer some insight into how alcohol might be part of the problem (even if you just have a few drinks on the weekend or a glass of wine before bed).

Keep reading to learn about how alcohol can affect anxiety, plus some tips on how you can reduce its effects!

5 WAYS ALCOHOL AFFECTS ANXIETY

1. Alcohol Affects Anxiety by…MICROBIOME DISRUPTION

Here’s something to marinate on…

We use alcohol as a disinfectant… and what do disinfectants do? Kill bacteria. 

Do you know what also has bacteria? Your gut, boo. 

Alcohol can seriously disrupt our gut microbiome, which is like a bustling city of bacteria in your digestive system. This microbiome is super important for digestion, keeping your immune system in check, and even affecting your mental health.

When you drink alcohol, especially if you’re doing it regularly or in large amounts, it can throw this whole system out of whack. It reduces the good bacteria and lets the bad ones take over, leading to an imbalance called dysbiosis.

This imbalance doesn’t just mess with your digestion. It can also cause more inflammation, which can cause more anxiety. 

Plus, your gut is like a little neurotransmitter factory, churning out feel-good chemicals like GABA, dopamine, and serotonin that affect your mood. So, when your gut is off, it can mess with your brain chemistry, too.

That’s why it’s so common to have both gut issues AND anxiety. 

Your gut is connected to your brain through the gut-brain axis, which means that what’s going on in your gut can directly affect your mental health. The vagus nerve, a major pathway for communication between the gut and brain, is key here. 

When the gut is inflamed or the microbiome is imbalanced, it can send signals to the brain through the vagus nerve saying ‘something’s wrong here’, which triggers those feelings of unease and anxiety.

It can take a week or two for your gut microbiome to start recovering from the disruption caused by alcohol. So, if you’re partying every weekend or drinking a little every night, you never really give it a chance to recover fully.

2. Alcohol Affects Anxiety by…NEUROTRANSMITTER IMBALANCE.

Alcohol messes with our microbiome which plays a big part in our neurotransmitter production. That’s right, most of your neurotransmitters are made in YOUR GUT, not your brain.

When we drink, alcohol boosts the effects of GABA and glutamate, which are calming neurotransmitters. That’s why we often feel relaxed after a drink or two. But if we drink a lot over time, our brain starts to reduce the number of GABA receptors, making us less sensitive to its calming effects. This can lead to increased anxiety and a decreased ability to manage stress.

Alcohol also initially releases serotonin and dopamine, which make us feel uplifted and happy. But again, with chronic or excessive use, it depletes these neurotransmitters, which can contribute to depression and lack of motivation.

So, while we may think alcohol relaxes us in the short term, especially by enhancing GABA and dampening glutamate, regular or excessive drinking can mess with our neurotransmitter balance, creating that addictive loop and making us feel like we always have anxiety and reduces our ability to cope with stress.

So sure, we definitely can feel the effects after a night of drinking, where it can take your body a day or two to bounce back from the effects of alcohol. But if you’re regularly consuming alcohol or in large amounts like a weekend bender, keep in mind that it can take much longer for your microbiome and neurotransmitters to rebalance again.

3. Alcohol Affects Anxiety by… NUTRIENT DEPLETION.

Did you know alcohol depletes certain vitamins and minerals in the body? 

So not only does alcohol disrupt your gut microbiome and neurotransmitters, it also depletes essential nutrients, creating a double whammy for your mental health. This is a big deal because these nutrients are crucial for neurotransmitter synthesis and regulation. When you’re deficient in them, it can contribute to anxiety symptoms.

  • B Vitamins: Alcohol particularly depletes B vitamins, especially thiamine (B1), folate (B9), and B12. These vitamins are vital for brain health and function. Thiamine helps convert food into energy, and without it, your brain can struggle to get the energy it needs. Folate and B12 are essential for producing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood. Deficiencies in these vitamins can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Magnesium: Alcohol also lowers magnesium levels. Magnesium plays a crucial role in relaxing the nervous system and regulating neurotransmitters that send signals throughout the brain and body. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to increased anxiety, restlessness, and difficulty sleeping.
  • Zinc: Zinc is another important mineral that gets depleted with alcohol consumption. It’s involved in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, including those related to brain function and mood regulation. Zinc deficiency has been linked to mood disorders and anxiety.

If you drink on the regular or have a holiday/event coming up, I’d recommend taking these before and after to help keep your levels stable. 

<My absolute faves are B-Activ, Optimag and Zinc by Xymogen. You can get them from my Wholescripts online pharmacy here.> 

Remember, it’s important to take high-quality supplements that are bioavailable (easily absorbed) instead of the cheapest ones at your grocery store. They will be more effective and better for you with fewer fillers and junk!

4. Alcohol Affects Anxiety by…INFLAMMATION.

I know you’ve felt the effects of alcohol the next day: the puffiness, brain fog, headache, general feeling of ‘unwell’ — all signs of inflammation. But do you know what’s happening inside your body at a cellular level?

When we drink, alcohol sets off a cascade of inflammatory responses at the cellular level. This inflammation doesn’t just disappear when the hangover does; it can linger and affect our mood and mental health, including anxiety. Understanding this process can shed light on why alcohol can worsen anxiety symptoms even after the immediate effects wear off.

Here’s how alcohol causes inflammation that affects anxiety:

  • Acetaldehyde Production: When alcohol is broken down in your liver, it produces acetaldehyde, a toxic compound that can damage cells and trigger an immune response, leading to inflammation.
  • Leaky Gut: Alcohol weakens the gut barrier, allowing harmful bacteria and toxins to leak into the bloodstream. This is a condition known as “leaky gut.”  It allows bacteria and toxins to escape from the gut into the bloodstream, triggering an immune response and inflammation. This chronic low-grade inflammation can affect the brain and contribute to anxiety.
  • Cytokine Release: Alcohol stimulates immune cells to release cytokines, which are signalling molecules that promote inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can worsen anxiety symptoms by altering the functioning of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood and can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

AMYGDALA + EMOTIONAL RESPONSES

Ever feel hyper-vigilant and jumpy after a weekend bender? Maybe a bit over-reactive in your emotions? That’s your amygdala being over-stimulated. 

Alcohol and chronic inflammation both affect the amygdala, a region in the brain involved in emotion regulation and recognizing/responding to threats.  

[Psst — This is why people with chronic illnesses (which often are rooted in chronic inflammation) also tend to have anxiety and can be more emotionally reactive, the chronic inflammation heightens their fight-or-flight response!]

The effects of alcohol on the amygdala can depend on several factors:

  • The amount and frequency of alcohol consumption
  • Individual differences in metabolism
  • Overall brain health

In general, acute alcohol consumption can have immediate effects on the amygdala, leading to changes in emotional regulation and response. Cue that next day grumpiness, jumpiness and anxiety.

Chronic alcohol consumption, on the other hand, can lead to longer-lasting effects and cause structural changes in the amygdala. These changes can persist even after alcohol consumption has stopped and may contribute to ongoing issues with emotional regulation and anxiety. 

This is why alcohol can still exacerbate your anxiety weeks after your last drink!

5. Alcohol Affects Anxiety by…SLEEP DISRUPTION.

Alcohol’s impact on sleep is often underestimated. While it might feel great to drift off easily after a night of drinking, alcohol disrupts your normal sleep cycle, leading to poorer overall sleep quality

This disruption is problematic for a few reasons: 

DECREASED REM 

It affects the duration and quality of different sleep stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is crucial for cognitive function and emotional regulation.

MORE FRAGMENTED

It also makes sleep more fragmented, meaning you’re more likely to wake up during the night, even if you don’t remember doing so. This fragmentation prevents you from getting the deep, restorative sleep you need to feel refreshed in the morning.

APNEA AND SNORING

Plus, alcohol can worsen sleep apnea and snoring, which decreases oxygen to the brain and can lead to increased daytime sleepiness, irritability, and, importantly, heightened anxiety. 

DISRUPTED CIRCADIAN RHYTHM

Alcohol disrupts the body’s Circadian Rhythm or internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and other physiological processes like mood, metabolism, hunger and more. 

When we drink, we often stay up later than our usual bedtime, which throws off our natural rhythm. Additionally, alcohol interferes with the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us fall asleep. 

This disruption can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep for days after drinking, leading to irregular sleep patterns, daytime fatigue, and trouble concentrating. 

Poor sleep is closely linked with anxiety because it can increase stress hormones like cortisol and disrupt neurotransmitter balance, particularly serotonin, which plays a crucial role in mood regulation.

So, while alcohol might seem like a quick fix for relaxation and sleep, its effects on sleep architecture can have lasting impacts on your mental health, contributing to increased anxiety symptoms.

ACTIONABLE TIPS FOR THE FUTURE

Here’s a truth bomb: the studies promoting the “benefits” of alcohol and red wine often cherry-pick data, highlighting minor positives while overlooking the numerous negative side effects.  More research is coming out suggesting that the best amount of alcohol to consume is, well, zero.

But maybe you’re not ready to give up alcohol for good. I FEEL YOU. Be it societal norms, happy hour invites, or the fact that you just love the taste of sangria… you might be considering my points listed above and wondering what to do.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

If you’re going through a particularly anxious period, it might be a good idea to take a break from alcohol altogether, or at the very least, stay sober at that birthday party or skip it altogether. Your mental health is more important than anything else. Your friends will understand, and if they don’t, you may want to re-evaluate that friendship.

Pay close attention to how alcohol affects your anxiety levels and mood, and adjust your consumption accordingly. Sometimes you may feel great after that first drink, but not the second, which pushes you to reach for another to chase that feeling.

Before each drink, check in with yourself to see if it’s in alignment with how you want to feel and if you really need another.

TAKE A BREAK

Seriously, if you have bad anxiety, I suggest cutting out alcohol for a full 30 days to see how much it impacts your anxiety. You might think that skipping one weekend of drinking is enough to see the benefits, but spoiler alert: it really takes 14+ days to fully get it out of your system.

Once the month is up, you should have a pretty good idea of how related your drinking habits are to your anxiety symptoms.

After that, the choice is completely up to you. Maybe you’ll:

  • Decide to only drink on the weekends instead of weekday happy hours or that beer or wine to go to bed
  • Swap out ½ of your nightly drinks with a non-alcoholic alternative.
  • Only drink on special occasions, holidays or birthdays
  • Test out another month without alcohol and see how you feel.
  • Go back to your regularly scheduled weekly happy hours. You do you, boo!

“THIS NAKED MIND” – ANNIE GRACE

This book really helped me reframe my relationship with alcohol. It taught me a lot of what I shared here and made me realize how much of my perception of alcohol was formed by what society and media has taught me. I listened to this as an audiobook and it inspired me to drink less while still indulging from time to time.

TAKE VITAMINS TO HELP DIMINISH THE AFFECTS

If you know that you’re going to keep drinking but want to soften the blow, check the Xymogen products below. You can get them from my Wholescripts online pharmacy here.

  • B-Activ
  • Optimag
  • Zinc
  • ProbioMax DF
    • A high-dose probiotic supplement that can support gut health during detoxification by promoting a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
  • NAC
    • NAC is a powerful antioxidant that supports the body’s natural detoxification processes, particularly in the liver. It can help reduce oxidative stress and promote liver health.
  • Liver Protect
    • This formula contains a blend of herbs and nutrients, including milk thistle, dandelion root, and turmeric, which support liver function and help protect the liver from damage.

DETOX SUPPORT SUPPLEMENTS

Alcohol is an addictive substance, which is why it’s easy to fall into a pattern of drinking every weekend, often after declaring, “I’m never drinking again.” The healthier our bodies are, the less we tend to crave external substances to feel good or complete. Alcohol consumption is multifaceted, involving mental, societal, and physical aspects. However, as I’ve focused on improving my inner health, I’ve found that I crave alcohol less and have become more attuned to why I might be craving a drink in the first place.

My recommendation?  

Consider supporting your body’s natural detoxification processes with supplements like those in the 30-Day Jumpstart Kit by Cellcore. Alcohol consumption can disrupt your body’s detox pathways, so supporting them can help reduce cravings and improve overall health. Starting with this 30-day kit can boost your energy, reduce brain fog, and enhance digestion, leading to better overall well-being. 

After the initial 30 days, consider continuing with a maintenance plan or doing their Para Kit during the full moon for ongoing support.

Email me for more information or book a Supplement Consultation for how to get started on the Cellcore products.

WANT ONE-ON-ONE HELP TO GET A HANDLE ON YOUR ANXIETY? 

Book a Functional Medicine Initial Consult with me. 

I’ve been there — I’m a semi-reformed party girl who’s dealt with her fair share of anxiety while still leading a healthy life. I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule while still listening to your body and slowing down when it’s asking for help. 

In our first session we will take an in-depth look at your health history, your goals of working together, how and what to eat for better health as well as tackle any low-hanging fruit in your daily habits that are in the way of healing your gut and anxiety!