How do I deal with anxiety without drinking?

Even normally sober people can easily be driven to drink because of anxiety. For those of us who are not normally sober, we must work hard to avoid that scenario. So, what should you do when anxiety strikes, as it surely will, and you want to avoid drinking as your relief? Try some of these strategies.

  • Get moving immediately. Go for a run or walk or take yourself to the gym. Exercise is a great antidote to anxiety and it’s a healthy activity.
  • Play with your pet. They will love you for it and that love will in turn soothe your anxiety. If you have a dog, take him to the dog park. The presence of other dogs and dog owners will also help relieve your nerves. A cat’s purring is also an instant soother for the cat and the person doing the petting.
  • There is always something that needs doing around the house. Now is the time to fix that wobbly table, repaint the living room or rearrange the furniture in the den. If you have a garden, weeding is always a great stress reducer because, as with all these tasks, you can instantly see the fruits of your labor. This gives personal satisfaction which aids in alleviating anxiety.

The point is to take your mind off the cause of the anxiety for at least a while. This will enable you to face it in a far more balanced way than heading straight for the bottle.

Tess Chedsey
Sober since June 2006

The key to dealing with anxiety in general is to be mindful of how it inhabits both your mind and body. For some people, anxiety comes in the form of muscle tension while for others it comes in the form of ruminating or obsessive thoughts. While anxiety can take many forms, it is crucial to become self-aware as it is happening. By doing so, you are better able to combat it. Anxiety can stem from experiences of personal emotional pain or distress, worry and/or fear, just to name a few sources.

There are many ways to deal with it but I recommend three key methods:

1) Having a support system that you can utilize at any time. Whether it’s a family member, friend or fellow recovering addict, having someone who loves you unconditionally, supports you and understands what you’re going through will be a huge relief to your anxiety. Oftentimes, knowing we’re not alone and being able to hold one another accountable is a good way to combat cravings or urges.

2) Meditation. Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce the size of the stress areas in the brain, boost one’s immune system and increase general health, success and happiness. Taking it up as a practice is a great way to get in touch with your mind and body and learn how to relax.

3) Try a “thought stopping/thought replacing” technique. This involves saying the word “stop” out loud as soon as the unwanted anxious thought surfaces and immediately replacing it with a far more constructive and uplifting thought to combat it. The key to this method is tireless repetition.

M. Lujan, Recovery Support Staff
Non-Profit Behavioral Health Center

Anxiety is extremely common in people who drink to excess. In fact, for many, the original reason they even started to drink was to help cope with anxiety. But once you have managed to stop drinking, it is essential to find new ways of coping with your anxiety. There are many forms of anxiety management and treatment. Here is a selection of the most common and what I find to be the most effective.

Breathing Exercises: One of the physical symptoms of anxiety is rapid, shallow breathing which can lead to hyperventilation and feeling quite disoriented. Learning to recognize when you are starting to over-breathe and then having control by taking slow, deep breaths can assist you to calm your anxiety. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, fully inflating your lungs and counting the breaths can help you to feel more in control again.

Distraction Techniques: Although not a long-term solution to overcoming anxiety, finding something to distract you from your anxiety can help in the short-term. If possible, go for a quick walk or pick up a book or crossword puzzle. You can also think about an upcoming activity you are looking forward to, what you are going to cook for dinner or anything that takes your mind off of the immediacy of the anxiety.

Longer-term Strategies: Regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, therapy and meditation are all longer-term strategies to help you cope with and manage your anxiety. Your physician may also prescribe a medication in the short-term such as a beta-blocker or other anti-anxiety medication. It's important, however, that you don't become overly dependent on medication in managing anxiety but try to overcome it with the methods suggested above.

Nina Bradshaw, Mental Health Professional
Mental Health Center

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to start the path to recovery today.

Stay Connected
Subscribe to our newsletter to get addiction help, recovery inspiration and community tips delivered to your inbox.
No Thanks. I'm not Interested