Alcohol and Mental Health

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The connection between drinking and mental health is complicated.

People use alcohol to try to control symptoms of anxiety and depression, but excessive drinking is likely to exacerbate those symptoms. Controlling your drinking and receiving the correct assistance is essential for good mental health.

Every year, around one in every four persons in the United Kingdom, will suffer from a mental health problem.

Can drinking have an impact on my mental health?
Alcohol has been described as “the UK’s favorite coping strategy,” and many of us drink to assist manage stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues [1].

This is referred to as’self-medicating’ with alcohol. Unfortunately, while alcohol might initially relax us and provide a momentary sensation of euphoria, the effects are fleeting, and the long-term negative repercussions of drinking excessively over a long period of time can be highly harmful:

Alcohol abuse can exacerbate the symptoms of a variety of mental health issues. It can, in particular, cause depression and anxiety.
You may feel worse than before as the early feeling of relaxation after drinking diminishes over time.
Post-drinking hangovers can be especially challenging, with the usual headache and nausea joined by feelings of melancholy and/or anxiety.
The use of alcohol in this manner may imply that the underlying mental health issues are not treated.
If you get reliant on alcohol to deal with your mental health issues, that reliance can become a problem in and of itself. You may find that your drinking interferes with other activities and strains your relationships, both of which can be detrimental to your mental health.

Depression and alcohol
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, affecting around one in every ten persons in the United Kingdom each year [2]. Depression and heavy drinking have a mutually reinforcing association, which means that experiencing one enhances the likelihood of experiencing the other [3].

As a result, controlling your alcohol use is one method of lowering your chance of developing depression. If you do suffer from depression, limiting your alcohol use may help you manage your symptoms.

Can I drink if I have a mental illness?
If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues and want to drink, the best suggestion is to keep to the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. That’s roughly six pints of lager or six regular glasses of wine spread out across three or more days, with a few days off in between.

Some people discover that it is advisable to stop drinking in order to improve their symptoms. Only you know what works best for you, but you might want to talk to your doctor or someone at your local alcohol service about it. Find an alcohol support service near you via the NHS service directories, or speak with your doctor:

England’s National Health Service
Wales NHS Direct
Northern Ireland Health and Social Care, NHS Inform, Scotland Health and Social Care
If you’re taking medication for a mental or physical health issue, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can drink alcohol while you’re on it, and if they recommend adjusting your drinking habits in any way.

Using alcohol to cope can have long-term harmful implications.

Long-term binge drinking
Long-term heavy drinking can also create physical brain alterations, resulting in difficulties reasoning, remembering, and understanding. These modifications are known as alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD), alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI), or even ‘wet brain.’ You can learn more about them by clicking here.

What to do if you’re having difficulty
If you are nervous, depressed, or suffering any other signs of a mental health crisis, you deserve help. You can consult your doctor and seek guidance and support at http://www.mind.org.uk.

Warning!

If you are dependent on alcohol, abruptly ceasing to drink can be extremely harmful, even fatal. If you experience any of the following symptoms after a period of drinking, you may be addicted to alcohol and should NOT stop drinking abruptly:

convulsions (fits)
Hand tremors (nicknamed “the shakes”)
sweating and seeing things that aren’t real (visual hallucinations)
depression
anxiety
Sleeping problems (insomnia)
You can, however, regain control of your drinking. Speak with your doctor, who will be able to assist you safely reduce your drinking.

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