Chronic Drinking Rewires Brain and Increases Anxiety Problems

Blog-Chronic Drinking Rewires Brain and Increases Anxiety Problems

The link between alcoholism and anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been well established by doctors for some time. Heavy alcohol use increases the risk for traumatic events like car accidents and domestic violence, but that only partially explains the connection.

A study conducted by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and UNC’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies suggests that heavy alcohol use rewires brain circuitry, making it harder for alcoholics to recover psychologically following a traumatic experience.

What Research Says

Chronic exposure to alcohol can cause a deficit about how our cognitive brain centers control our emotional brain centers. “A history of heavy alcohol abuse could impair a critical mechanism for recovering from a trauma, and in doing so put people at greater risk for PTSD,” said NIAAA scientist Andrew Holmes, PhD, the study’s senior author. “The next step will be to test whether our preclinical findings translate to patients currently suffering from comorbid PTSD and alcohol abuse. If it does, then this could lead to new thinking about how we can better treat these serious medical conditions.”

Over the course of a month, the researchers gave one group of mice doses of alcohol equivalent to double the legal driving limit in humans. A second group of mice was given no alcohol. The team then used mild electric shocks to train all the mice to fear the sound of a brief tone.

The Results

When the tone was repeatedly played without the accompanying electric shock, the mice with no alcohol exposure gradually stopped fearing it. The mice with chronic alcohol exposure, on the other hand, froze in place each time the tone was played, even long after the electric shocks had stopped.

Alcohol & Anxiety

Understanding the relationship between alcohol and anxiety at the molecular level could offer new possibilities for developing drugs to help patients with anxiety disorders who also have a history of heavy alcohol use. This study is exciting because it gives us a specific molecule to look at in a specific brain region, thus opening the door to discovering new methods to treat these disorders.

We Can Help

You CAN change your brain, and change your life. At Amen Clinics, we want to help you. Call us today at 888-288-9834 or visit us online to schedule an appointment.


  1. My husband was sexually abused as a child and has been an alcoholic for the last 35 years. He is 52 years old. He has been in and out of rehabs, jails and hospitals. He is currently in Georgia in a 30 day program. After reading your article and Alcohol and the link between PTSD, I believe that is what he suffers from. He has not been able to maintain his sobriety for longer than 1 year. I would greatly appreciate any information you have on your program.

    Thank you,

    Deanna Crook

    Comment by Deanna Crook — March 5, 2018 @ 12:42 PM

  2. Hello Deanna, thank you for reaching out and sharing with us. We will have a Care Coordinator reach out to you to explain our program and options for your husband.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 5, 2018 @ 12:52 PM

  3. My husband is also alcoholic and the longest he’s been sober is 2 days.

    Any help for people living outside the U.S?


    Comment by Mubanga — March 6, 2018 @ 1:52 AM

  4. My son Endre Benjamine Eyre 44, is an alcoholic in Apple Valley, CA. He has been in/out of jai for public intoxication. He reads writes, music, plays guitar, piano and has had no formal training. He has been attending AA. Please contact me with any advice to give him when he contacts me. Thank you! Sincerely, Bridgette Anne Browning 760-902-1430.

    Comment by Bridgette Anne Browning — April 16, 2018 @ 1:24 AM

  5. Hello Bridgette, thank you for reaching out to us. We will have a Care Coordinator reach out to you with more information. If you’d like to reach us, you can call 888-288-9834.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 16, 2018 @ 7:51 AM

  6. Thank you for what your doing

    Comment by Judy — April 17, 2018 @ 4:14 AM

  7. I spent 18 months in Vietnam as a combat gunship helicopter pilot. I was shot down 4 times, crashed twice from mechanical failures, wounded in the leg, and took over 100 hits from enemy fire. I became and alcoholic in VN and suffered from PTSD. I quit drinking in 1981 but was not diagnosed with PTSD until 2006. I received EMDR treatment that was very effective at alleviating the PTSD. It is a very straight forward mechanical process the removes the emotions from the memories. Afterwards the emotions fade quickly and over time the memories fade too. It’s never too late to get the treatment. It was nearly 40 years for me.

    Comment by Dan Swecker — April 17, 2018 @ 6:43 AM

  8. My husband is an alcoholic and after nonth in ICU. Is sober after having a stroke, heart attak and seizure. He has been sober 2 years now, but did major damage to himself. How long can he last if he does not drink? I’m trying to make his life as good as possible, but he is so messed up..

    Comment by Robin — April 17, 2018 @ 7:16 AM

  9. Could you send me information on your services, i need help for my son. He drinks a lot, i think he may be deoressed, but he wont talk to me about anything.

    Comment by Angela Devi — April 8, 2019 @ 10:36 PM

  10. Hello Angela, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you via email with information.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 9, 2019 @ 7:10 AM

  11. Can you help someone that will help me with Dementia?

    Comment by Debbie Church — April 13, 2019 @ 6:53 AM

  12. Certainly, Debbie, we’ll contact you via email. Thank you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 16, 2019 @ 1:05 PM

  13. I’m certainly not an authority on the subject, but you might try a whole food diet: Plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes (beans, garbanzos, lentils), and natural fats (advocado, coconut oil, and uncooked olive oil). Drinking plenty of water…mostly between, rather than at meals).

    Comment by Ruth — July 28, 2019 @ 5:42 AM


    Comment by ENDRE EYRE — April 3, 2023 @ 12:13 PM

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