What is the Link Between Alcohol and Mental Health Disorders?
As with many addictions or dependencies, alcohol is closely linked with mental health disorders. Whether you’re drinking socially or suffering from long-term alcohol addiction, alcoholism and mental health will be connected somehow.
Drinking alcohol has become the norm in society, with people drinking to celebrate and to commiserate. Many of us acknowledge that alcohol will change our mood, resulting in short-term relaxation, confidence, or courage, which is a major influencing factor in why people turn to alcohol. What we often forget whilst we’re consuming alcohol is the long-term damage it can have on our well-being.
As alcohol leaves our system, we’ll begin to feel much worse than we did before we started drinking because of how withdrawal symptoms affect alcohol and the brain.
The Impact of Alcohol on Mental Health
How much you drink will impact the severity of the damage that alcohol can have on your mental health. Consuming too much alcohol can have a detrimental impact, not only on your physical health but on your mental health too. Because alcohol is a depressant, it can initially lower your inhibitions, making you feel more relaxed. However, these effects quickly wear off leaving you feeling more anxious than you previously did.
Alcohol and anxiety are a vicious circle of feeling temporarily relaxed by the alcohol, which then causes you to feel more anxious when the effects wear off, so you subsequently continue drinking to relieve your anxiety again. If you have an alcohol dependency and have built up more of a tolerance to drinking, then your central nervous system will become used to the suppressing effect of alcohol.
This means you will naturally go into ‘fight or flight’ mode once the alcohol leaves your system which is the same reaction as an anxiety disorder. Therefore, anxiety is one of the main mental health disorders caused by alcohol.
In addition to anxiety, alcohol has the potential to increase tension and panic, which can lead to a panic attack. The effect that alcohol has on your brain’s chemistry can induce panic as it reduces your GABA receptors. Symptoms of a panic attack include feeling faint, lightheaded, dizzy, and a racing heartbeat; these can last between 5 to 30 minutes. If you are prone to suffering from panic attacks, we highly recommend reducing your alcohol intake.
When it comes to alcohol and depression, this is perhaps the most associated mental health disorder with alcoholism. Many people who stop consuming alcohol, often feel much better within the first few weeks as it was likely alcohol that was causing their depression. Put simply, alcohol can worsen depression and, in some cases, cause the symptoms of depression. If you drink more than the low risk drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days (with several drink free days and no bingeing), your alcohol consumption will have a negative effect on the chemistry of your brain, leading to potential long-term damage on your mental health.
Is There a Link Between Alcohol and Mental Health?
The neurobiology of alcohol completely changes the functionality of our brain, which in some cases can lead to long-term damage. This is because alcohol is a depressant, so it disrupts our brains chemical balance, altering our behaviour, our thoughts, and how we feel. This is typically why alcohol can make you feel less positive, as it can bring on depression, anxiety, frustration, and anger, even though you didn’t feel these things before.
Disturbingly, alcohol reduces our brains neurotransmitters which is what we need to fight out anxiety and depression, therefore, we want to drink more to relieve these feelings, but get stuck in a cycle of alcohol dependency.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol-related Mental Health Disorders
Anxiety or generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) affects both your physical and psychological wellbeing. The symptoms will vary from one person to another, depending on the severity of their anxiety or on the severity of their alcoholism which could be a major contributing factor to their anxiety. When suffering from anxiety, you’ll likely see symptoms of irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, feeling ‘on edge’, or a sense of fear. The symptoms often cause people to withdraw from their usual hobbies or socialisation as the anticipation for these events can induce even more anxiety.
In addition to these psychological symptoms, anxiety can also make you feel tired, sick, dizzy, cause an irregular heartbeat, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, headache, insomnia, and excessive sweating.
Similar to anxiety, symptoms of depression can widely vary and are very complex. The most common psychological symptoms include a low self-esteem, continuous low mood, or sadness, feeling hopeless, feeling guilty, finding it difficult to make decisions, not getting any enjoyment out of anything, and having suicidal thoughts. Alongside these, you may experience physical symptoms such as lack of energy, changes to your menstrual cycle, low sex drive, changes in appetite, disturbed sleep, and unexplained aches or pains.
Seeking Help for Alcohol Addiction and Mental Health Disorders
If you’re concerned that you’re drinking more than is recommended and that alcohol is impacting your mental health, then it’s crucial that you seek out professional support immediately; there is plenty of help available to you.
Initially, we recommend talking with your GP. They can check your physical health and refer you to local support groups or offer medication to help with any physical dependencies. Your GP may be able to diagnose you with a mental health disorder and refer to a specialist for treatment. There are many rehab facilities that specialise in alcohol addiction and mental health disorders.
They may recommend counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (also known as CBT), stress management, relapse prevention, or dialectical behaviour therapy alongside therapies which take care of your general wellbeing. These may include relaxation and sleep management, fitness therapy, nutritional supplement therapy, music therapy, mindfulness, yoga, and art therapy.
Whatever stage you’re at with alcoholism, it’s important to remember that support is available to you. You can turn your life around and create a happier and healthier future to look forward to. Call us on +44 (0) 800 012 6006 or contact us today to learn more.