For many of us, alcohol is a regular part of life. It is part of many rituals that help us relax and connect with others. We may use it to unwind after a long day by socializing with a cold pint or a glass of chardonnay after, or enjoying a meal with family or friends.
Yet, for all its popularity, alcohol consumption can also have an adverse effect on our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Alcohol use and dependence can interact with depression and anxiety to result in severe negative consequences.
Let’s have a look at how alcohol can affect our mental health.
It’s not the stress-buster it seems to be
Many of us use alcohol to relax after a stressful event such as work, thinking that a drink or two will help us – temporarily – forget our problems. But in the long term, alcohol actually interferes with your brain’s cortisol production, which is a hormone responsible for stress response. When you drink a lot of alcohol, your brain increases the amount of cortisol it produces, which in turn can increase your blood pressure and levels of alertness, as well as overall feelings of stress and anxiety.
It can make depression and anxiety even worse
Sometimes we drink to celebrate something, like for a birthday or to ring in the new year. Other times though, we may turn to alcohol because we’re feeling depressed or anxious and are hoping that, by drinking, we can lessen those negative emotions. Unfortunately, quite the opposite is actually true: self-medication with alcohol to ‘treat’ anxiety and depression can develop into a negative cycle, where we drink to lessen our depression or anxiety, but our depression or anxiety ultimately gets worse because of it.
Alcohol can also affect and change your brain’s chemistry – neurotransmitters, for example, help send chemical and electrical impulses all around your body and brain; when alcohol interferes with this process, the negative changes can also increase the occurrence of depression and anxiety.
Alcohol abuse is related to self-harm
It’s commonly known that alcohol has the ability to help us ‘loosen up’ and act impulsively. Unfortunately, the consequences of this can be far more severe than we may realize. When someone is struggling with depression or anxiety, and they decide to abuse alcohol, there may be a greater potential for them to do things they wouldn’t normally do – including acts of self-harm. In fact, suicide rates are six times higher amongst people with alcohol dependence.
In more extreme examples of alcohol abuse, heavy drinkers may sometimes develop psychosis and experience symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.
For many of us, the opportunity to imbibe in an alcoholic beverage might be all too easy to find – from wanting to relax, to celebrating a special event, to simply joining in with other drinkers, be mindful of the amount we consume can be challenging. However, if you’re concerned about the connection between your mental health and alcohol, there is certainly support out there from BEACON and cognitive behavioural therapy.
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