This post may be long but this realization has been life-changing for me and it might be for you as well.
I was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder at approximately the age of 10. I was a super anxious child and had a lot of anxiety up until the age of approximately 16. CBT and other therapies helped. I never took any medication. From 16-20 years old, I rarely ever experienced day-to-day anxiety (only things like flying, elevators, small spaces, etc, gave me anxiety). At 20 years old, I couldn’t remember the last time I had an anxiety attack.
In 2018, at the age of 20, I moved to Europe and was the happiest I had ever been. I looked and felt the best I ever did and was living an amazing life with my family and tons of new friends. I spent my first 3-4 months partying and drinking probably about 5 times a week on average. It was the most fun I had ever had. I rarely ever had “traditional” hangovers (no nausea, no headaches, no throwing up, etc). One day, out of the blue, after a night of heavy drinking, I suffered the worst panic attack I had ever had up until that day. I was confused and absolutely terrified and couldn’t understand why my anxiety was back. I was literally the happiest I had ever been, there was absolutely no trigger whatsoever, yet, I had experienced this horrible panic attack. From that day, I began to feel extremely anxious about why I had this panic attack and what caused it. I began to fear that I would have another panic attack and start having panic attacks every single day. A few days later, I had another panic attack, and then another, and another… I began to have panic attacks almost every single day (many times in public) and even fainted several times from my panic attacks (also several times in public). I was absolutely terrified and so confused as to why this was happening. I was convinced that something was medically wrong with me. I had every possible medical test done and there was nothing wrong with me. I went to a psychiatrist who recommended that I get on antidepressants. I had never taken any medication for anxiety (only Xanax occasionally) and was extremely reluctant to. I went to another psychiatrist for a second opinion and they too recommended that I get on antidepressants, so I did. I began taking Lexapro and it worked pretty quickly. Within a month, I stopped having panic attacks and was pretty anxiety-free but I still had the fear in the back of my mind that I would have a panic attack and faint, especially in public. I was reluctant to go out with new friends who didn’t know about my anxiety and panic attacks, etc, but I was still living and functioning really well. I stopped drinking alcohol for approximately the first 3 months that I was on Lexapro. After that, I began consuming alcohol again but not as frequently as I was before. Maybe twice a week. I experienced hangover anxiety but it subsided pretty quickly and never escalated into a panic attack.
From 2018 to July 2022, I was doing really well. I went through some difficult moments in between so I definitely did experience severe anxiety at times but the panic attacks that I was experiencing for absolutely no reason had completely subsided. Fast forward to July 2022, I went back to Europe to visit my friends and was going to stay for about 2 months. I began to party and drink literally every single day for almost a month and a half straight. I maybe skipped a day or two here and there but I could probably count on one hand the number of days I was sober within that month and a half (horrible, I know). After the first two weeks, my anxiety increasingly got worse and worse. I continued to drink and tried my best to ignore it. I had several panic attacks (almost fainted once) and was once again confused as to why this was happening to me. I knew that the alcohol was definitely increasing my anxiety but I didn’t believe that alcohol could be the sole reason for my panic attacks, especially being that I was on Lexapro so I was “protected.” Well, yesterday, after about 12 hours of research on alcohol and anxiety disorders and reading stories from others who have had the same experience, I realized that alcohol has been causing my panic attacks all along. Alcohol caused that initial panic attack in 2018, which forced me down a spiral of fear that I would have another panic attack, thus leading to more panic attacks. This realization has been so profound for me as this whole time, since 2018, I believed and accepted that I had a chemical imbalance and I began to have these crazy panic attacks for absolutely no reason. So, in the back of my mind, I always feared that this could happen to me again at any time and that I would definitely need to be on antidepressants for the rest of my life. I now feel that if I stop drinking and work through the fears that the initial panic attack in 2018 caused, I can most definitely get off Lexapro and live a panic-free life.