Alcohol and mental health

Man with glass of wine; is alcohol affecting your mental health?

Drinking alcohol is deeply ingrained in many cultures and is often associated with socialising, relaxing and celebrating, particularly around holidays such as Christmas.

In moderation, drinking is fine, but when alcohol consumption crosses the line and becomes excessive, it can have significant consequences for our mental health.

Facts and figures on alcohol consumption compiled by the Priory group show that there are more than 600,000 dependent drinkers in England.

In 2019/2020, there were over 107,000 adults being treated for alcohol misuse, with 60% of them needing mental health treatment (see Adult substance misuse treatment statistics 2020 to 2021: report of November 2021).

How does alcohol affect mental health?

The charity Alcohol Change UK describes the relationship between alcohol and mental health as ‘complex’, explaining that if alcohol is used to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, excessive drinking can make those symptoms worse.

Commenting on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on alcohol misuse, and in particular on the effects of lockdown, Dr Richard Piper of Alcohol Change UK, said that of the 600,000 people in the UK who need treatment for alcohol problems, most are not getting it (see Pandemic drinking: Alcohol misuse treatment up 10%).

Excessive alcohol consumption is closely linked to an increased risk of various mental illnesses:

  • Depression: Alcohol is a depressant that can exacerbate feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It can lead to a vicious cycle where individuals turn to alcohol to cope with depression, but it ultimately worsens their symptoms.
  • Anxiety: Chronic alcohol abuse can trigger or intensify anxiety disorders, leading to panic attacks, generalised anxiety, and social phobia.
  • Bipolar disorder: Alcohol can disrupt mood stability, making it challenging for individuals with bipolar disorder to manage their symptoms effectively.
  • Schizophrenia: Alcohol can interact negatively with antipsychotic medications and make the symptoms of schizophrenia worse.

Because it impairs judgement and can make us more impulsive, drinking too much alcohol can also lead to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cognitive impairment, affecting memory, decision-making, and problem-solving abilities. These cognitive deficits can hinder an individual’s daily functioning and overall well-being.

In addition, alcohol disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to insomnia or fragmented, poor-quality sleep. Sleep is crucial for mental health, and the lack of it can worsen conditions like anxiety and depression.

How can the impact of excessive drinking on mental health be managed?

  • Seek professional help: If you or someone you know is struggling with excessive alcohol consumption and its effects on mental health, it’s important to get professional. Mental health professionals, addiction counsellors and support groups can provide valuable help and can tailor treatment plans to address both the addiction and underlying mental health issues.
  • Detox and rehabilitation: In cases of severe alcohol dependence, supervised detoxification and rehabilitation programmes may be necessary to help people safely withdraw from alcohol by providing the medical and psychological support needed for a successful recovery.
  • Medication and therapy: For those struggling with alcohol use disorder and concurrent mental health disorders, a combination of medication and therapy can be effective. Medications may be prescribed to manage cravings and mental health symptoms, while therapy can help individuals develop healthier coping strategies and address the root causes of their issues.
  • Lifestyle changes: Engaging in a healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact on mental health. Regular exercise, a balanced diet and adequate sleep can help improve mood and overall wellbeing. Limiting alcohol consumption or abstaining completely can significantly reduce the risk of exacerbating mental health problems.
  • Social support: Building a support system is crucial in managing alcohol-related mental health issues. Lean on friends and family for emotional support and consider joining support groups for people facing similar challenges.

Know the signs and seek help

Excessive alcohol consumption can have a detrimental impact on mental health, leading to various mental illnesses and cognitive impairments. Recognising the signs of alcohol abuse and seeking professional help early is essential for effective treatment and recovery.

By addressing alcohol-related issues and mental health concerns together, we can improve our overall wellbeing and regain control of our lives.

It’s never too late to seek help and make positive changes for a healthier, happier future.

If this is an issue that affects you or someone you know, then please get in touch to discuss how I can help.