Alcohol and Mental Health: What You Need to Know

18th November 2020

For many of us, having a drink is a way to let our hair down, reduce our stress levels and have a bit of fun. Generally speaking, December is one of the biggest months for drinking; from Christmas parties to family gatherings and New Years celebrations. 2020 is a little different from the norm. The majority of us are spending more time inside than ever before, drinking in a less social environment to drown away the stresses of the year…

Whilst drinking alcohol can make you feel great in the short term, excessive drinking can lead to addictive behaviours and mental health issues. Especially in times of a pandemic, where our mental health is already being hit hard. Drinking alcohol in excess can be linked to a range of mental health issues as well as a negative mindset. Learn more about the links between alcohol and mental health issues, and how to keep yourself and others safe this festive period.

Alcohol and Anxiety

There are currently 8.2 million cases of anxiety disorders in the UK, and this year people’s anxiety levels are likely to be higher than ever before. It’s been a very unsettled and worrying year for all of us. So why is alcohol a problem for those suffering from anxiety?

Alcohol affects serotonin levels within the brain. Whilst this provides temporary relief from feelings of anxiety, when this wears off, a person is likely to feel more anxious than before. This is especially the case when it comes to hangovers. What’s more, a person can become reliant on using alcohol in order to control their anxiety. The more alcohol is consumed on a regular basis, the higher a person’s alcohol tolerance becomes. This means that over time, the amount of alcohol a person needs to drink to experience the same feelings of relief can become excessive, which can soon lead to the situation becoming out of control…

Alcohol and Depression

Depression is the most common mental health problem experienced worldwide. Much like those suffering from anxiety, alcohol and depression go hand in hand. However, the links between the two are a little more complex.

Drinking and depression can be compared to the chicken and the egg debate. A person may start drinking because they are experiencing depressive feelings, or they may develop depression due to excessive drinking. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning when regularly consumed in excess, it can trigger depression; especially for those who are more genetically susceptible to it, or dealing with high levels of stress in their lives. It can be difficult to establish cause and effect between the two.

However, what we do know is that it can be extremely difficult to break the cycle, as both negatively reinforce one another. Much like with anxiety, people are drawn to the temporary relief and escapism from their feelings alcohol can provide.

Alcohol and Stress

Many of us are guilty of pouring ourselves a drink after a stressful day to help relax and unwind. Why is it that alcohol helps us to destress? Alcohol causes chemical changes within the brain, affecting the central nervous system. Much like with anxiety and depression, it may relieve the symptoms in the short term, but once the alcohol wears off, those feelings will be heightened. This presents a problem in those suffering from stress on a regular basis.

Stress is known to affect a person’s sleep, both in terms of quality and duration. Alcohol only worsens the problem. You might be thinking, but a drink helps me to get to sleep at night? Whilst alcohol can help you to drift off, you’re often not getting the quality sleep your body needs. So whilst you might be getting 8 hours of sleep, if it’s not deep sleep, you’re unlikely to feel the benefits.

For others, alcohol consumption can result in them waking up numerous times throughout the night. This can be due to interrupted sleep, and that fact that alcohol is a diuretic, meaning more trips to the bathroom than usual. This is problematic as once you’re awake, you struggle to get back to sleep, filled with feelings of stress and worry.

Tips To Keep Drinking Under Control

We’ve been through the links between alcohol and mental health, but what can be done to keep drinking under control?

  • Cut back on drinking – Make sure you take days off from drinking, or perhaps only drink over the weekend, and avoid drinking more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. If you live with other people, ask them to get involved to make it a team effort!
  • No mixing – You’re not able to mix some anti-depressants and anxiety medications with drinking, so make sure you check the recommendations.
  • Don’t use alcohol as a treatment – It’s important to remember alcohol is not a treatment for anxiety, depression or stress; it simply offers temporary relief and doesn’t address the underlying issue.
  • Find other drinks you like – Not drinking alcohol doesn’t mean you have to drink water. Find other drinks you like as an alternative, flavoured teas, non-alcoholic versions of your drink of choice or fruit juices work well.

The most important piece of advice we can provide is to reach out for help. If you’re struggling with your mental health, or feel your drinking has gotten out of control, speak to someone you trust. There are so many people out there to help, you don’t have to suffer in silence.

If you would like advice on drug and alcohol at work or employees health and wellbeing, get in touch with our Occupational Health team today. We’re here to help you.

Request a callback

Tell us your name and number below and we'll give you a callback to discuss your requirements.

Request a callback