Does Alcohol Help With Flight Anxiety?

Flying on an airplane can be an anxiety-inducing experience for many people. The thought of being tens of thousands of feet in the air in a metal tube may lead to feelings of nervousness, fear, and panic.

For those who suffer from aviophobia or have general anxiety about flying, the question often arises: does drinking alcohol help calm your nerves and reduce flight anxiety? In this comprehensive, 3000 word guide, we’ll explore the pros and cons of using alcohol as a remedy for flight anxiety, look at safer alternatives, and provide tips for managing anxiety while flying sober.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Research shows that while alcohol may initially help reduce anxiety symptoms, it can actually make anxiety worse in the long run. There are also risks associated with drinking alcohol before or during flights.

However, there are safer, healthier ways to manage flight anxiety without turning to alcohol.

How Alcohol Affects Anxiety

Many people turn to alcohol as a way to cope with anxiety, including flight anxiety. However, it’s important to understand how alcohol actually affects anxiety before using it as a solution. While alcohol may initially seem to alleviate anxiety symptoms, it can actually have negative long-term effects.

Alcohol’s sedative effects

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows down brain activity and produces a sedative effect. This can create a temporary feeling of relaxation and calmness, which may be why some individuals turn to alcohol to cope with anxiety.

However, it’s important to note that the sedative effects of alcohol are only temporary and do not address the root causes of anxiety.

It’s also worth mentioning that alcohol’s sedative effects can impair cognitive function and motor skills. This can be especially dangerous when combined with the stress and unpredictability of air travel.

Passengers who consume alcohol before or during a flight may not be able to respond effectively to emergency situations, putting themselves and others at risk.

Rebound anxiety

One of the most significant drawbacks of using alcohol to manage anxiety is the phenomenon known as rebound anxiety. After the initial sedative effects wear off, the brain’s neurotransmitters rebound, leading to an increase in anxiety symptoms.

This can result in heightened feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and even panic attacks.

Furthermore, using alcohol as a coping mechanism for anxiety can create a vicious cycle. As rebound anxiety kicks in, individuals may feel the need to consume even more alcohol to alleviate their heightened anxiety.

This can lead to a dangerous pattern of reliance on alcohol as a way to manage anxiety.

Tolerance and withdrawal

Over time, regular alcohol consumption can lead to tolerance, meaning individuals need to consume larger amounts to achieve the same sedative effects. This can have a detrimental impact on mental and physical health, as excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol dependence and addiction.

Additionally, when individuals who have become dependent on alcohol suddenly stop drinking, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range from mild anxiety and restlessness to more severe symptoms such as seizures.

It’s important to seek medical assistance when attempting to quit alcohol if dependence is suspected.

Risks of Drinking Before Flying

While some individuals may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with flight anxiety, it is important to understand the potential risks involved. Here are several key areas of concern:

Safety concerns

Alcohol consumption before flying can impair a person’s judgment, coordination, and reaction time. This is especially concerning in an environment where quick decision-making and alertness are crucial, such as during takeoff, landing, or in emergency situations.

Additionally, alcohol can exacerbate the effects of jet lag and disrupt sleep patterns, making it more difficult to adjust to the new time zone.

Interactions with medications

It is essential to consider any medications you may be taking, as alcohol can interact negatively with certain drugs. Mixing alcohol with medications such as sedatives, antidepressants, or antihistamines can intensify their effects, leading to excessive drowsiness or impaired cognitive function.

It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before consuming alcohol while taking medication.

Laws and regulations

It is crucial to be aware of the laws and regulations surrounding alcohol consumption on flights. While airlines typically serve alcoholic beverages, they may have restrictions on the amount that can be consumed or may refuse service to passengers who appear intoxicated.

Additionally, some countries have stricter regulations regarding alcohol consumption, and being under the influence of alcohol upon arrival may lead to legal consequences.

Hangovers and dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. This can be particularly problematic during air travel when the cabin’s low humidity levels already contribute to dehydration.

Furthermore, consuming large amounts of alcohol the night before a flight can result in a hangover the next day, which can further exacerbate discomfort and hinder overall well-being during the journey.

It is important to prioritize personal health and safety when considering whether alcohol can help with flight anxiety. Exploring alternative coping mechanisms such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or speaking with a healthcare professional may provide a more effective and sustainable solution for managing anxiety while flying.

Healthier Ways to Reduce Flight Anxiety

Relaxation techniques

If you’re someone who experiences flight anxiety, there are several healthier alternatives to consider rather than turning to alcohol. One effective method is to practice relaxation techniques. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm your mind and body before and during the flight.

These techniques help reduce stress and promote a sense of calmness. You can find numerous resources online and even smartphone apps that guide you through these relaxation exercises.

Anxiety medication

For individuals with severe flight anxiety, seeking professional help from a healthcare provider or therapist is crucial. They can recommend anti-anxiety medications that are safe and specifically designed to manage anxiety symptoms.

These medications can help you feel more relaxed and at ease during the flight. However, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any medication to ensure it is suitable for you and to discuss any potential side effects.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely recognized and effective treatment for anxiety disorders, including flight anxiety. This form of therapy focuses on identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to anxiety.

By replacing these thoughts with more rational and positive ones, individuals can learn to manage their anxiety more effectively. CBT can be done individually or in group settings with a trained therapist.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is another technique commonly used to treat flight anxiety. This form of therapy involves gradually exposing individuals to the fear-inducing situation, in this case, flying, in a controlled and supportive setting.

The goal is to desensitize the individual to the anxiety triggers associated with flying. Exposure therapy can be highly effective in reducing flight anxiety and can be done under the guidance of a trained therapist.

Staying busy during the flight

One way to distract yourself from flight anxiety is by staying busy during the flight. Engaging in activities such as reading a book, listening to music, watching a movie, or playing games on your phone or tablet can help divert your attention from anxious thoughts.

Additionally, bringing along comfort items like a favorite blanket or pillow can provide a sense of familiarity and comfort.

Remember, everyone’s experience with flight anxiety is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to explore different coping mechanisms and find the ones that work best for you.

Seeking professional help and support is always a good idea if you find that your flight anxiety is significantly impacting your life.

Tips for Managing Anxiety While Flying Sober

Arrive early and get comfortable

Arriving early at the airport can help reduce anxiety by giving you plenty of time to check-in, go through security, and find your gate without feeling rushed. Once you’re at the gate, find a comfortable seat where you can relax and mentally prepare for the flight.

Taking a few moments to get settled and familiarize yourself with your surroundings can help alleviate anxiety.

Distract yourself

Distraction can be a powerful tool in managing anxiety during a flight. Bring along a book, watch a movie, listen to music, or engage in any other activity that you find enjoyable and immersive. These distractions can help take your mind off the flight and redirect your focus to something positive and entertaining.

Practice deep breathing

Deep breathing exercises can be incredibly helpful in reducing anxiety. By focusing on your breath, you can calm your nervous system and promote relaxation. Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth.

Repeat this process several times to help regulate your breathing and reduce anxiety.

Talk to your seatmates

Engaging in conversation with your seatmates can help distract you from any anxiety you may be feeling. Strike up a friendly conversation and get to know the people around you. Not only can this help take your mind off flying, but you might even make a new friend or learn something interesting along the way.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water before and during the flight is essential for staying hydrated and managing anxiety. Dehydration can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety, so it’s important to keep your body hydrated.

Additionally, avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol can also contribute to a more relaxed and calm state of mind.


In summary, while alcohol may temporarily reduce feelings of anxiety and nervousness associated with flying, relying on it is not the healthiest or safest approach. The sedative effects are short-lived and rebound anxiety can make anxiety worse once the alcohol wears off.

There are also legal, health, and safety risks involved with drinking before or during flights.

The good news is that there are many effective, holistic ways to manage flight anxiety without alcohol, such as relaxation techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and simple in-flight tips.

Addressing the root causes of your aviation fears and learning to calm your mind and body can help you face your worries and have an easier, less stressful flight experience.

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