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Ask a Therapist: How does alcohol impact mental health and how do I know if I’m consuming too much?

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Alcohol may be consumed as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or depression. While it may provide a sense of relief in the short term, it can make things more difficult in the long run. Increased alcohol consumption leads to greater tolerance, which means that over time, it takes more alcohol to achieve the same effect. Alcohol is also a depressant, which means that increased use tends to make anxiety and depression worse over time.

To understand if there’s a “safe” level of drinking which minimizes the potential harmful impacts to your physical health as well, you should know that while consuming alcohol is never particularly “safe,” governments establish guidelines around “safe drinking.” These are guidelines for consuming alcohol at the safest possible levels which include minimizing the risks of consumption. Canada publishes its own guidelines under the “Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines” advising that women should keep to fewer than 10 drinks per week with no more than two drinks per day on most occasions. Men, on the other hand, are advised to keep to fewer than 15 drinks per week with no more than three drinks per day on most occasions. There is also a warning included mentioning that non-drinking days should be planned to avoid developing a habit.

Changing a person’s relationship with alcohol can take time and hard work. For many, particularly during the first year of reducing alcohol consumption, challenges can arise that lead to a lapse (temporary setback) or a relapse (full return to previous drinking patterns). In either case, it is important to recognize triggers, cope with the emotional impact, and plan to get back on track. The skills taught in MindBeacon’s Managing Alcohol Use program can be used in cases of lapses and relapses.

For more information about alcohol use and managing your relationship with alcohol, check out our Ask a Therapist webinar recording here with our own therapists and Dr. Kevin Shield from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) who has been studying the impacts of alcohol throughout his career:

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If you’re ready to get started with therapy to manage your alcohol use, visit us here to complete your assessment.

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Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.