This week marks alcohol awareness week from the 16th – 22nd November. This week is all about raising awareness, campaigning for change and also the common theme between alcohol and mental health.
2020 has been an unprecedented year for all with the ongoing difficulties revolving around the current pandemic. Many of us have been furloughed or face a lot of uncertainty when it comes to work, with very little time for some rest and recuperation too with local lockdowns. It’s no wonder why we are all feeling a little more stressed and anxious than usual.
However due to current events, alcohol consumption is on the rise. This week we will be talking about the issues and sharing advice on the best way to look after yourself and your loved ones during this very difficult time.
Did you know: 5 out of 10 drinkers said they do so because of a mental health reason?
The relationship with alcohol and mental health is very complex. Many of us use alcohol to help try to manage our mental wellbeing, however, it can have the opposite effect, making symptoms like anxiety and depression much worse.
The effects of alcohol
Alcohol has short-term and long-term effects on mental health. How we are affected when we drink depends on a few factors including:
- How much we drink
- What we drink
- How long we drink for
- Our mental state at the time
Moderate alcohol consumption is not typically a problem, however, drinking regularly or heavily over an extended period of time can have a longer impact on your mental health.
Did you know: 1 in 3 drinkers have been drinking at increasingly or high risk levels?
What happens when we drink?
We use alcohol as a gateway to making ourselves feel more relaxed and to experience an improved mood. One reason that we might drink is because it produces extra dopamine, this travels to the parts of our brain which are also known as ‘reward centres’ – the places that make us feel good and make us want to do more of whatever it is we are doing.
These short-term effects on our mood, especially for those who want to relieve anxiety or depression, will turn to alcohol more frequently. However, alcohol is also a depressant which means that it slows down the brain functioning. So as you start to feel more relaxed after a few drinks, those initial feelings subside and are replaced with negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and sometimes even anger. With this combined with a hangover the next morning – caused by dehydration, low blood sugar and various by-products of alcohol – you can begin to feel sluggish or unwell for a number of hours or even days.
Did you know: 4 in 10 people found that drinking worsened their mental wellbeing?
If you drink over a longer period of time your body gets used to the dopamine boosts you are getting from alcohol and will start making less dopamine to compensate. This means if drinking becomes a habit you may become dopamine deficient which will contribute to your low mood.
This is where the vicious cycle begins. We then begin to ‘top-up’ our dopamine levels by drinking more. This can mean that longer-term alcohol use can change the ability of the brain to reduce unwelcomed feelings naturally and contribute to our mental health problems.
What to do if you are struggling
If you are feeling anxious, depressed or have any other symptoms of mental health issues, or you think that you are drinking too much, we are here to support you.