Alcoholism is common among people suffering from mental health conditions. People experiencing anxiety, depression, impulsivity, or other diagnosable mental illnesses often turn to alcohol to find temporary solace. Additionally, people who do not have a mental health diagnosis, yet are encountering a phase of overwhelming emotions, drink dangerously.
For example, while struggling with the aftermath of trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, people drink to escape the pain. Alcohol is used as a coping mechanism for those enduring a great deal of stress or hardship, such as getting fired from a job or losing a loved one.
Drinking represses the negative emotions that affect the mental well-being of those with diagnosed mental health concerns and those who simply feel emotionally flooded.
While it may allow for a short-lived relief from anxiety, depression, or overwhelming feelings, drinking alcohol is not a smart choice in the grand scope of mental well-being. The popular misconception that drinking relieves stress deludes people into thinking that things will feel better after a few drinks. And they might, for an hour or two, as alcohol races through the body, creating a false sense of stimulation.
However, as time goes on, and drinking becomes excessive, alcohol raids the central nervous system, shifting the normal processes within the body and brain.
People need to be educated about how drinking negatively affects mental health. I’ve spent three decades clinically treating emerging adults with mental health concerns, many having a coexisting dependency on alcohol. I composed a guide, Ten Good Mental Health Reasons Not to Drink, as a way to expose the effects of alcohol on mental well-being. This valuable resource explains the social and emotional consequences of drinking.
The first few points describe how alcohol disrupts brain and body functioning. Drinking revamps brain processes such as forming memories and learning new information. It can be difficult to recall the details of events when alcohol is involved. Drinking also agitates the body’s ability to rest.
Instead of restoring vital organs and cells during the process of sleep, the body has to work harder than normal to break down alcohol in the system. When alcohol interferes with normal sleep patterns, energy levels sink. Moods fluctuate as a result of drinking, since alcohol directly depresses the central nervous system.
Additionally, Ten Good Mental Health Reasons Not to Drink touches on how alcohol gets in the way of good decision-making. While under stress and feeling anxious, people drink to find temporary relief. However, drinking leads to a rebound in anxiety levels, often making matters worse than before.
Drinking lowers inhibition. Excess alcohol consumption usually means fewer personal restrictions are set in place.
Without self-reservations, people under the influence are more likely to engage in promiscuous behavior, use other substances, or conduct themselves aggressively. Poor decisions made while under the influence usually increase feelings of shame, guilt, or worry.
Finally, the guide clarifies the dangers of alcohol throughout the course of seeking mental health treatment. People who take prescribed medications, such as those being treated for anxiety or depression, should avoid alcohol completely. Drinking can be extremely dangerous, even fatal, when combined with prescription drug use.
Besides the harm of consuming alcohol while on medication, drinking can provoke past memories of trauma. Alcohol can spark repressed feelings associated with painful events of the past, memories powerful enough to create overwhelming anxiety, depression, or shame. Reliving trauma and the dark feelings it may bring about intensifies while under the influence, and can pose a threat to personal safety.
If you or someone you know has a drinking problem and mental health concerns, seek help. Unsure where to begin? Start by avoiding alcohol and talking with your doctor.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Mar 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Viner, J. (2014). Alcohol May Not Help: Alcohol’s Impact on Your Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 2, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/03/25/alcohol-may-not-help-alcohols-impact-on-your-mental-health/