The link between alcohol and mental health: a catch-22 situation?
The Department of Health have announced the first changes in 21 years to the guidelines for alcohol consumption. They came into effect on the 8th January 2016 and now recommend that both men and women do not consume more than 14 units a week. This represents a large decrease from the 28 units a week for men and 21 units a week for women you were allowed before.
There has been lots of debate surrounding the effects alcohol can have on your body, but what effects could it have on your mind?
Alcohol in mental health can be a vicious cycle where mental health problems can cause people to drink, but then alcohol can cause mental health problems in return and it is a cycle that is hard to break. A major reason for drinking alcohol is to change our mood so it is understandable that it is more common for people suffering from mental health problems to also have problems with alcohol. Alcohol could help relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression and more serious mental health problems but only in the short term and could lead to more severe problems down the line.
Evidence shows that people who consume high amounts of alcohol are vulnerable to higher levels of mental ill health – (The Mental Health Foundation)
Alcohol is a depressant and as a result depresses our central nervous system, which leads to a change in mood and a change in behaviour. Drinking a lot can leave you ‘numb’ not only in your body but also in your mind, so alcohol can help people who have difficult issues in their life escape them, if only for a short time.
After the alcohol has worn off, it is time to deal with the dreaded hangover. If mental health sufferers are drinking to alleviate their condition for a short time, the symptoms can often be a lot worse the next day. This is because ‘alcohol reduces the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain, which are what fights off feelings of anxiety and depression’. So you can imagine that if someone already suffers with these conditions, they are going to feel a lot worse on a hangover. Then they could start drinking again to alleviate these symptoms, leading to more problems down the line and this is a hard habit to break.
Drinkaware.com has advised these four ways to help prevent alcohol affecting your mood:
- Use exercise and relaxation to tackle stress instead of alcohol.
- Learn breathing techniques to try when you feel anxious.
- Talk to someone about your worries. Don’t try and mask them with alcohol.
- Always be aware of why you’re drinking. Don’t assume it will make a bad feeling go away, it’s more likely to exaggerate it.
Overall the updated guidelines from the Department of Health are welcomed by all in the healthcare sector and hopefully it will help improve the health of our population, both physically and mentally.