How alcohol affects your mental health
Alcohol and mental health are closely linked. Drinking too much can affect your well-being. Some people may drink to try to relieve the symptoms of mental ill-health.
In order to understand why alcohol can have a negative impact on your mental health, it helps to know what happens to your brain when you drink.
Using alcohol to cope with difficult feelings or problems can be a tempting short term solution. But it can lead to significant mental health problems. You may not realise that drinking is affecting your mental health. But there can be early warning signs.
Although it might feel that alcohol helps us to relax, it can lead to an increase in stress and anxiety. Alcohol affects the quality of sleep. Have you noticed you sleep for a long time after having a few drinks? But then do you wake up the next day and still feel tired? Our bodies find it more difficult to reach the deeper, restorative stages of sleep with alcohol in our system. This means we feel more tired the next day, and feeling tired can result in poor mental health.
Alcohol is a depressant. The physical effects of a hangover can be obvious. It is often the next day or two where you would notice the impact on your mood, no matter how good the night was. Take notice of your mood in the days after a night out so you can recognise the impact.
Mental health symptoms caused by problem drinking include:
- memory problems
- concentration problems
- finding it hard to learn new things
- personality changes
- hazy thinking
A recent Drinkaware study shows that 50% of us are using alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Alcohol affects the levels of certain “happiness chemicals” like dopamine and serotonin. As these levels change, one might get an initial boost of happiness when you first start drinking. However, the next day you’ll have less of these chemicals, and you’ll feel a lot worse.
Even though you might feel happier and more relaxed when you first start drinking, this can change the more you drink. As you continue you may begin to feel sad, anxious, angry, anxious, depressed or become aggressive.
Drinking alcohol to improve your mood or cope with stress is an unhealthy coping strategy. And it means that you are missing out on developing healthy coping skills. This can lead to more serious problems in the future.
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In Ireland, there is emerging evidence that drinking to cope and conform is relatively common. Here are some of the reasons cited by Irish adults:
- 41% – ‘To fit in with a group you like’
- 29% – ‘So you won’t feel left out’
- 29% – ‘Because it helps you when you feel depressed or anxious’
- 42% – ‘To cheer you up when you are in a bad mood or stressed’
- 34% – ‘To forget about your problems’
According to Alcohol Forum Ireland, 88 people die every month in Ireland as a direct result of alcohol. 1 in 4 deaths of young men aged between 15-39 is due to alcohol. Alcohol presents a more significant cost burden on Irish society than smoking and obesity combined.
How to manage drinking?
It can be difficult to resist peer-pressure with drinking on a night out. If you’re serious about reducing your intake, talk to your friends about this in advance. Get them to support you, and if they can’t do this, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your friendships. There are some great social options even in Ireland, which don’t have to include alcohol. Going for coffee, the cinema or bowling can be ways to hang out with friends without alcohol. Don’t put pressure on others to drink alongside you, and stand up for friends who opt out.
Many people drink alcohol to relax and find relief from their mental health symptoms. Instead of drinking, look for healthier ways to relax. You can start meditating, engaging in physical activity, practicing yoga, cooking or taking a calming bath. Activities like these can help take your mind off stressful situations and provide you with an outlet to release tension rather than choosing to drink.