It seems like everything can have an impact on your mental health, so over the coming weeks we are going to look at various factors that can have an impact on your mental health including: drugs, sleep, diet, gut health and exercise. We will be starting with alcohol, this follows on from last week's post looking at whether drinking has increased due to the pandemic.
It is currently estimated that in 2020 approximately 66.4% of the adult population drank alcohol in an average 4 weeks. This is actually dropping from 73.5% in 2006 and 68.2% in 2015. Despite this alcohol is the most common drug treated in AOD (alcohol and other drugs) treatment centers. With 1 in 5 adults dealing with a mental illness there is bound to be some overlap with people drinking to manage their mental illness or while getting treatment for one.
Alcohol changes the brain chemistry and leads to depleting the chemicals in our brain that help reduce anxiety naturally. So while a drink at the end of a hard or stressful day may help you relax this is only short lived. Long term alcohol use may only make you more anxious, stressed or depressed.
When people start to self-medicate with alcohol it can be hard to see what is the mental illness and what is due to the alcohol. This can make it harder to get treatment in the long run and specialist care, with alcohol use often masking mental illness symptoms. It’s always important to be honest with your doctor with how much you drink so that they make sure it isn’t impacting your mental health negatively and can work out the best form of treatment.
While there are no reports linking alcohol directly to causing mental illness. If you are already prone to having a mental illness such as depression it may contribute to the intensity of the feelings.
Alcohol and depression go hand in hand and in many cases, it can be hard to work out which came first, the alcohol dependence or the depression? This is because alcohol is a known depressant, which means any amount you drink may cause you to feel down afterwards. This is because that alcohol effects several nerve chemical systems in the brain which are important with regulating our moods. People can often also have regrets after a night out drinking and can be unsure what exactly happened, which can also contribute to feeling depressed.
For people with anxiety, drinking is a way to relax and let their guard down instead of being consistently on edge. However, these relaxed and care free feelings can be short lived and tend to wear off fast. Which means you need to continually drink to experience these relaxed feelings and if you do it often you can build up a tolerance to alcohol and require more to experience the same feelings as before. This can lead to alcohol dependence and addiction.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare people with mental illnesses or high or very high levels of psychological distress are more likely to drink at risky levels compared to those who don't. This is both in terms of lifetime drinking and also occasionally.
If you’re on antidepressants it’s generally advised not to drink alcohol, this is due to the alcohol reacting with them and having a more severe impact. There are some antidepressants where it is not advised to drink any even a small amount these include Tricyclic antidepressants and Monoamine-oxidase inhibitors, whereas with SSRIS a small amount of alcohol infrequently isn’t going to make a huge impact. This is also applicable to any other medications you are on long term. So it's always best to speak to your doctor if you are unsure if you can drink while on any kind of medication. It's also a good idea not to stop taking antidepressants just to drink.
As with anything if you notice that it is having a negative impact on your mental or physical health it may be an idea to take a break from it. It's also worth noting that alcohol will have different effects and impacts on everyone and for some alcohol won't agree with them or impact them harder than other people. It's ok to say to no alcohol or limit how much you drink, it shows that you are aware of your health. Choosing to abstain from drinking is no longer considered uncool, with there being a variety on nonalcoholic alternatives on the market from nonalcoholic beers to nonalcoholic wines and even nonalcoholic spirits.
Enjoy drinking but be aware of the impacts it can have on your mental health. What may make you feel better now may not help you in the long run and lead to you feeling worse later on.
Feel free to drop by, just say, ‘Hey Erin’ in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below any time.
The Relationship Between Anxiety and Alcohol Use Anxiety and Alcohol: Know the Signs & How They Are Linked The Risks of Using Alcohol to Relieve Anxiety Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders Alcohol and Depression: What You Should Know