- Posted by Jon Harju
- On November 21, 2019
Alcohol has been a centrepiece of Western society and culture for centuries and is present in so many parts of our lives. We tend to have a solid understanding about the well-known risks alcohol can have on our physical health, but less so about how it can impact our mental health.
A recent study found that lifetime abstainers of alcohol reported the highest level of mental well-being. And, people who drank moderately (up to four alcoholic drinks for men and three for women in any single day) and quit completely saw an improvement in their mental well-being.
Why we reach for a drink
The relaxed feeling you might experience with an alcoholic drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol causes in your brain. For some, a drink can temporarily help them feel less anxious and more confident because the alcohol begins to depress the part of the brain we associate with inhibition.
But, as you drink more, the brain begins to be greatly affected. Regardless of the mood you’re experiencing at the start of your drink, when high levels of alcohol are consumed, instead of pleasurable effects increasing, it’s possible that a negative emotional response will take over and affect your mental health. In fact, alcohol has been linked to triggering and contributing to a range of issues from depression, anxiety, memory loss, anger, aggression and suicide.
What is the connection between alcohol and mental health?
Alcohol is a depressant that slows your body down and changes the chemical makeup in your brain. Consuming alcohol can alter:
- energy levels
- sleeping patterns
- memory and many other things.
Alcohol reduces our inhibitions and impacts decision making, leading to us to make choices that possibly we wouldn’t normally make when sober. This is linked with:
- increases in aggression
- increases in risky behaviour
- self-harm and suicide for those who may already be going through a tough time.
Avoidance and self-medicating
Frequent alcohol consumption affects our ability to cope with tough times. Heavy drinking can make stress harder to deal with as it interferes with the neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health.
Avoidance is a common, albeit an unhealthy, coping mechanism that may be a go-to strategy for the reported 1 in 6 US adults who binge drinking multiple times a month. Some emotions are difficult for people to deal with and they turn to self-medicating with alcohol, in an effort to avoid having to feel or face certain situations. For example, someone dealing with loss may not like the feelings of loneliness and therefore try to lessen the pain by drinking.
What happens if I stop drinking?
There are many benefits to reducing or cutting out alcohol use, including:
- more energy
- better sleep
- better physical health
- improved mood
Mindful drinking is not about deprivation; it’s about gaining ownership of your drinking choices and not relying on alcohol to escape your feelings. Rather than numbing uncomfortable feelings with a drink, focus on acknowledging and accepting them. By becoming more aware of your needs and the importance of addressing them, you stand to become more conscious of how to embrace the positive and alternative coping mechanisms that reach beyond that quick drink after work –supporting your mental wellness for the win.
Are you concerned about problem drinking and interested in accessing further information? http://camh.alcoholhelpcenter.net/
Download Snapclarity to complete your free mental health check-up.