How alcohol affects your mental health

I saw a Twitter thread recently asking people to comment on what they will give up this year to help their mental health. There were hundreds of answers ranging from food items to toxic relationships. The one thing I didn’t see much of was booze. The people who did mention alcohol said that their mental health improved once they quit drinking. I found this to be the case for me, as well. I’m almost 4 years sober, and I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety, and alcohol issues most of my life. My father also suffered from the same thing, but unfortunately, he didn’t make it. He was able to seek help for his depression, but he couldn’t bring himself to quit drinking. And this eventually took his life.

Alcohol was the single worst cause of my anxiety and depression. I knew this from both my personal experience and because I used to be a mental health nurse. The research is quite clear when it comes to alcohol and mental health — if you suffer from any type of mental health issue, alcohol will make it worse. Within a month of quitting drinking, my anxiety and depression symptoms improved and not just a little — a lot. I was more relaxed, slept better, and didn’t wake up anxious the way I usually did after drinking. I also seemed to digest food better and could gather my thoughts more rationally. During my drinking binges, the worst anxiety I ever had was after I stopped drinking for a few days. And of course, I knew why that was — the most common symptom of alcohol withdrawal is anxiety. And even though I knew this as a nurse, I was addicted to alcohol, so I couldn’t face it. It was my crutch, and as horrible as it sounds, I preferred to stay sick rather than quit drinking. This was also the same reasoning that my father followed.

I suspect this is a popular story amongst many who have mental health issues and who also drink too much. We know it doesn’t help our physical or mental health, but we can’t stop. More so, we can’t really talk about it either because doing so would force us to reconsider our drinking habits. Most of us with mental health issues choose alcohol because it relaxes us and seems to help our symptoms at first. Indeed, one or two drinks usually has a calming effect. The reason for this is that alcohol suppresses our nervous systems, which is why we initially feel good. Unfortunately, once we have a few drinks and then stop for the night, the nervous system rebounds from that calm state and snaps in the opposite direction. This is why we feel so damn anxious when the alcohol starts to wear off. It’s important to know that even a few drinks can cause this challenging effect. Even more importantly, those who suffer from mental health issues are already known to have a sensitive nervous system. This means we’re already prone to significant swings in our neurological synapses, so adding more irritating substances can have devastating effects.

The problem is, people with mental health issues already have a lot on their plate. Not only do we have to deal with our life-altering symptoms, but we cope with stigma and judgment everywhere we turn. And guess what else has a lot of stigma attached to it? Alcohol addiction. So those of us with mental health and addiction issues can really find ourselves in a pickle. No matter which way we turn, someone is going to judge us for both our mental health and alcohol problems. This is why most of us stay silent. And even if we begin to speak out about our mental health issues, we will usually maintain our silence about alcohol. After all, why would we tattle-tale on our favorite coping mechanism? Unfortunately, this leads to worsening mental health and addiction symptoms. This was the case for me until I reached out for help and quit drinking. My father stayed silent, continued his drinking, and paid the ultimate price.

In the mental health system, we usually refer to people with both mental health and addiction issues as having concurrent disorders. The research shows that those with concurrent disorders are at higher risk of suicide, severe disability, and death. However, the reason people stay silent about their alcohol issues, is because they feel it helps them cope with their mental health. But what if people knew more about the effects of alcohol and exactly why it makes their mental health worse? Yes, many of us know that excessive drinking isn’t good for us, but most of us don’t understand why. More so, when you’re already hanging by a thread due to severe depression, you might need a damn good reason to give up the one thing you believe helps you, right? The best we can do now is to talk about this more openly and with better information. As a former nurse and alcoholic, I’m committed to getting this info out there the best way I can.

Quitting drinking helped my nervous system find balance again. Only then, could I address my depression and anxiety adequately. Alcohol only further confused my mental health and made it virtually impossible to find the root cause. You should also know that if you take medication for depression or anxiety, alcohol will prevent it from working correctly. Alcohol interacts with most mental health prescriptions by blocking the body from metabolizing it properly. Even more frightening is that adding alcohol with prescription medication causes severe stress to the liver. If that’s not bad enough, you should know that a stressed liver also causes problems in our nervous system, which may further our mental health problems. So you can see that alcohol causes a vicious cycle that only feeds into worsening addiction and mental health issues.

If you’re someone who drinks heavily and also has mental health problems, please talk to your doctor about it. Staying silent can have severe repercussions. I know it’s hard to find non-judgmental help, but with a little perseverance, you’ll find what you need. You’re not alone, and trust me, help is out there. There are better ways to cope with and relieve the symptoms of mental health issues. But unfortunately, alcohol is not one of them.

Here are the research references used to write this article:

  1. Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal

  2. Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health

  3. A Prospective Assessment of Reports of Drinking to Self-medicate Mood Symptoms With the Incidence and Persistence of Alcohol Dependence

  4. Alcohol and Medication Interactions

  5. Inflammation in Alcoholic Liver Disease

  6. How Does the Liver Work?

  7. Concurrent substance-related disorders and mental illness: the North American experience

Article Originally by Gillian May & found here

Picture by Sydney Simms on Unsplash here


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