Alcohol, anxiety and how secrets keep you sick

kelly1
16-11-2021

When LionHeart asked me if I’d consider sharing my story during Alcohol Awareness Week, my initial reaction was to politely decline.

I am a vocal person who talks regularly about mental health, depression, anxiety and other invisible illnesses - it’s one of the reasons I became an ambassador for LionHeart. But it seems to me that alcohol, however, remains a subject that is still not spoken about.

Alcohol use disorder carries with it shame, guilt and misunderstanding. There was part of me that was reluctant to focus on this particular subject for fear of social and professional suicide.

It’s a counterproductive reaction really. Because if people like me do not begin opening up and speaking honestly about such matters, then the stigma around mental health disorders - and particularly alcohol use disorder (AUD) - will remain.

And this is a bad thing because secrets keep people sick and discourage people from seeking help.  

 I am unable to recall the moment when it happened for me, the moment when I crossed that invisible line whereby the bottle of red wine on the Friday evening moved from a 'choice' to something that was 'necessary'. I had been dedicating all of myself to my career for many years, juggling the childcare with my full-time, high-pressure role and studying to progress further.

I lived my life 'off balance' and the stress of spinning so many plates would accumulate throughout the week. The Friday night bottle of wine was a welcome tool in helping me to breathe and relax into the weekend.

Over the years I have been extremely vocal about my own personal struggles with anxiety and depression, particularly to those within our industry. This has placed me in the fortunate position to help other professionals suffering the same.  To date, however, I have not spoken about alcohol use disorder (AUD) or the vicious cycle that is created when AUD and anxiety disorders come together.  

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and, as such, the temporary effect of alcohol on the nervous system is that it calms it down. To those who suffer with generalised anxiety disorders, this can feel like a welcome relief. The negative cycle begins when the opposite effect occurs the morning after alcohol consumption, when the dreaded 'hang-xiety' hits. Whether anxiety causes alcohol misuse or if it’s the other way round is irrelevant. Research strongly concludes one thing: when the two disorders come together, they reinforce each other. One disorder makes the other worse and they also make each other harder to treat. In other words, if you suffer from anxiety and are using alcohol as a form of self-medication, you are at risk of falling into the anxiety-alcohol trap.  

Like many professionals in the construction industry, as my career developed, my network grew, coupled with regular social events.  

I initially started drinking alcohol to cope with feelings of stress and, at times, to relieve the anxiety at such social events. In contrast, the opposite effect was produced when the alcohol wore off the next day.

After some time in this cycle, my job performance suffered and my anxiety subsequently increased.

I started to suffer from panic attacks and my doctor prescribed medication to control these symptoms. Behind the scenes, when living in the anxiety-alcohol cycle, a person's brain chemistry changes and it becomes even harder to break the cycle.

I signed up for the 'Sober for October' challenge every year and my loss of control over alcohol first became apparent to me when I was unable to achieve the 31 days sober.

If you, like me, have seen that you are struggling with your drinking habits, and are beginning to use alcohol as a way of coping with or treating anxiety, it can be really difficult to know where to start. Research suggests that, since the two problems are intertwined, treatment for both is necessary. It can be harder to treat anxiety if you are still using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Conversely, if you quit drinking alcohol and do not treat the anxiety, you are at risk of falling back into old coping behaviours.

Fortunately, there are solutions to both illnesses. If anything that I’ve describedkelly2 resonates with you, know that treatment is possible and that you can find a balanced approach to living your life with freedom. But first, you must find the courage to ask for help.

My life now is very different from the life that I lived when I was in that cycle.

I have now learned healthy mechanisms for coping with personal and professional stresses which include reading, walking, exercise and breathing techniques. I am unmedicated and I rarely suffer with anxiety or depression. I am a Chartered Building Surveyor, a present mother to my two children and I am entirely abstinent from alcohol.

The absence of hangovers means that I can give my extra time to charity initiatives and have been in the position to share my story to help people who might be coping with similar challenges. 

At first, I was reluctant to write this story, but if it helps just one other person, then it was worth it.

Ask for help. Don’t forget that surveyors and their families can talk to LionHeart.

And if anyone would like to talk to me in confidence, please contact me on LinkedIn and I will share my number.


Kelly Allen MRICS is a senior building surveyor who won her category in the 2019 Young Surveyor of the Year Awards. Since then she has used her platform in the profession to advocate for positive mental health and wellbeing and help those struggling with adversity. She is one of the LionHeart mental health ambassadors.

Latest Posts

2021
November
19th - How alcohol almost cost me everything
18th - Children's grief and how to help
16th - Alcohol, anxiety and how secrets keep you sick
4th - "I had no idea stress could cause a real physical pain"
October
22nd - 5 ways to get your teen talking
18th - The Positives of Menopause
13th - Baby loss and depression
12th - The pandemic’s impact on children's mental health (and what we can do about it)
8th - Don't judge a book - a story of depression and change
5th - LionHeart Back to Work support
September
29th - Post APC submission
16th - How families feel youth mental health
June
24th - 6 top tips if you’ve been referred
May
20th - Coaching for change
12th - “I’d hit absolute bottom – but it was the catalyst to seek help”
April
22nd - Spring into action by fundraising for LionHeart
March
4th - Reflecting on university mental health
February
15th - My experiences of counselling
January
20th - Worry Time - and how it helps
18th - My furlough & redundancy journey
13th - Volunteering and LionHeart
2020
November
30th - A road to change
2nd - Trusteeship through lockdown and uncertainty
October
12th - The importance of legacies
10th - Overwhelm - and overcoming it
8th - Lockdown and my mental health
September
28th - Creativity at Work
July
20th - Video
June
24th - 'If I can do it, so can you'
22nd - How to ace your APC interview online
8th - Help! I've been referred... what now?
3rd - Your coronavirus concerns, and how we're helping
May
12th - How coronavirus might be affecting your mental health
12th - Managing health anxiety through Covid-19 - and how we helped Mike
March
31st - Rising to the coronavirus challenge
24th - Keep connecting - in a different way
13th - Demonstrating our impact
February
4th - "Cancer wasn't meant to happen to us"
January
30th - My journey as a charity trustee
7th - Top 10 tips for CVs and interviews
2019
December
9th - Grief and loss at Christmas
November
7th - Charity trusteeship
6th - How counselling can help manage stress
October
9th - Living with anxiety and depression
July
10th - How coaching can help
May
16th - Changing attitudes to mental health
15th - The vicious circle of body image & mental health
14th - Social Anxiety & how we can help
April
11th - Life with Parkinson's
March
29th - What is Bipolar?
29th - The one about the Bipolar surveyor...
12th - Memory tips from the training front line
January
22nd - Losing a parent
8th - Frequently asked questions about LionHeart
2018
December
7th - LionHeart's support was a game-changer when I failed APC
August
16th - When the reality of motherhood doesn't quite go to plan
July
10th - The story behind surveying's Sisterhood Summit
2nd - The rollercoaster of being a first-time dad
June
22nd - My father's suicide and what I've learnt
14th - Tips for your RICS APC final assessment interview
7th - Trust in the charity sector
May
21st - Is it really okay to not be okay?
April
17th - Building resilience through your APC
January
8th - 7 ways to get more active this year
2017
December
4th - Coping with loss and grief at Christmas
October
5th - "I was told I might not be cut out to be a surveyor"
September
26th - Resilience, and why we need it
August
21st - APC Revision Top Ten Tips
July
12th - LionHeart on new fundraising code of practice
June
19th - Living with 'invisible' illness
14th - How LionHeart helped us live life
13th - Men's Health Week 2017
May
22nd - Living with panic attacks
18th - Why we must care about work life balance
11th - The chicken-and-egg of mental health and shame
February
2nd - What I learnt from Dry January
January
31st - "My 19-year journey to MRICS is what made me"
5th - Ways to be kind to yourself in 2017
2016
September
7th - Suicide prevention
August
1st - Coping with APC stress
July
13th - "I constantly watch my husband for suicidal signs"
May
26th - Dealing with referral at APC Final Assessment
19th - How mindfulness can help your relationships
18th - "I live, and thrive, with depression"
17th - Men and mental health
16th - Mental health and your relationship
April
26th - Starting out in surveying
March
11th - A happy retirement
February
1st - My Dry(ish) January
January
21st - Spring clean your finances
6th - When to consider couples counselling
2015
December
4th - Having a (financially) healthier Christmas
November
19th - Identifying and dealing with workplace bullying
18th - How to help a loved one with an addiction
June
15th - Reflections on the Lionheart Surveyors’ Football League season
12th - Carers
10th - How LionHeart can support carers
9th - Desktop Relaxation techniques
May
29th - Techniques to help combat anxiety
20th - Helping a family member with depression
18th - Achievements that make a difference
16th - Five things that may indicate your colleague needs help
11th - Helping during a panic attack
Helpline +44(0)121 289 3300 or 0800 009 2960 (UK Free)