Triggers and Effects of Anxiety During Detox

After prolonged alcohol use, anxiety can exacerbate unpleasant alcohol detoxification symptoms. While some people turn to alcohol for help with pre-existing anxiety problems, other people develop anxiety disorders due to alcohol use and abuse. Learn how to recognize anxiety, identify anxiety triggers and manage anxiety during the difficult detox period.

Recognizing Anxiety

Anxiety presents differently for each person. While some people express their anxiety outwardly in the form of panic attacks or with verbal outbursts, others feel their anxiety internally and keep it pent up. Anxiety can also be caused by a number of factors, including social phobia, other phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, medical conditions and more. Because anxiety is such a common but different experience for patients, there are a number of different symptoms of anxiety, including:

  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling as though one’s mind goes blank
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Excessive worry about common thoughts or situations
  • Fatigue
  • Fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation
  • Fear or anxiety about social encounters, especially relating to being seen or observed, judged, or having to speak to unfamiliar people
  • Fear of being in open or public spaces
  • Fear of panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness or a feeling of being on edge

Panic attacks, which can be caused by anxiety, come with their own set of symptoms, including:

  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heart beat
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control
  • Feeling as though one is choking
  • Feeling as though one is detached from his or her body or feeling outside of reality
  • Feeling hot
  • Nausea, diarrhea or other digestive problems
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath or the sensation of being smothered
  • Sweating

Anxiety Triggers During Detox

Anxiety can be caused by a number of factors during the detox period. During detox, anxiety symptoms can emerge due to a lack of coping skills, social anxiety or the other physical symptoms that alcohol detox causes. For example, during alcohol detox, many people feel jumpy, shaky and fatigued. They may also experience nausea, vomiting, insomnia, headache, clammy skin and a rapid heart rate. Oftentimes, this causes people to worry excessively about their health, which can cause anxiety. Any one of these physical alcohol detoxification symptoms can trigger anxiety or a panic attack. Furthermore, if a person has struggled with anxiety prior to going through alcohol detox, alcohol may be his or her primary coping mechanism. Many people use alcohol as a way to calm or soothe themselves. During alcohol detox, they are unable to turn to this coping mechanism and are left with no other way to gain control of their emotions.

Effects of Anxiety During Detox

During detox, anxiety can make the entire process seem unbearable. Though the detox and withdrawal periods are not comfortable for anyone, anxiety can make it far more difficult to maintain one’s sobriety and abstain from alcohol. Anxiety may also make someone more resistant to receiving help from unfamiliar people at a detox or rehabilitation facility. Because alcohol detox causes many of the same symptoms as anxiety – such as irritability, difficulty sleeping, nausea, rapid heart rate, fatigue and tremors – one condition may exacerbate the other. Therefore, it is crucial that a person who is suffering from anxiety during the detox period gets help via an inpatient or intensive outpatient program.

Managing Anxiety During Detox

In order to cope with anxiety during detox – whether it is a precursor to or result of alcohol abuse – a patient must learn effective ways of coping with anxiety symptoms. This often involves mindfulness, meditation and self-soothing techniques that can be used anywhere and anytime anxiety strikes. Additionally, mental health professionals can teach patients personalized coping skills in individual counseling, group therapy and during alcohol rehabilitation. It is important that the patient has a healthy way of calming himself that does not involve turning to drugs or alcohol. Many people who suffer from anxiety find exercise, crafts, music and cooking to be soothing hobbies that effectively manage one’s anxiety. Not only is anxiety one of the many alcohol detoxification symptoms, but it can actually make the process of detox more difficult. By being aware of anxiety triggers and their effects, you can begin to manage your anxiety and protect your sobriety.   Sources: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association. Canan, F. & Ataoglu, A. (2008). Panic Disorder After the End of Chronic Alcohol Abuse: A Report of 2 Cases. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Alcohol Withdrawal.

Scroll to Top