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Alcohol Use and Mental Health

Common questions about alcohol use, its effect on mental health and warning signs that you are drinking too much or too often.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Mental Health?

Alcohol is associated with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, psychosis and self harm. 

Many people may turn to alcohol as a means of managing stress, anxiety, depression and grief. They may use alcohol socially or privately to feel less nervous and more relaxed and/or confident. The problem is, these effects are temporary. 

Alcohol can disrupt the balance of your neurotransmitters, spiking hormones like dopamine as well as affecting how the brain processes information. This can lead to a cycle of dependence in which individuals feel the need to drink more and more often to feel the same sense of relief.

Can Alcohol Cause Permanent Mental Illness?

More than 25% of adults who experience a serious mental illness also struggle with a substance use disorder. Whether or not alcohol can cause mental illness is up for debate, but what is clear is that it can certainly worsen its symptoms.

The good news is that the effects of alcohol will begin to reverse almost immediately after quitting. This means that everyone can benefit from exploring a sober lifestyle, regardless of the length or severity of their substance use history.

Why Isn’t Drinking an Effective Coping Mechanism?

Drinking is not an effective coping mechanism for a number of reasons, including: 

  • It comes with health risks such as cancer, cardiovascular events and worsening mental health symptoms
  • It provides only short-term relief
  • It will not help you address the root of the problem, or move toward a positive solution
  • Excessive alcohol use can lead to poor decision making

A better solution is working with a licensed mental health professional who can help guide you in determining the best, most effective coping mechanisms for you. Often, this can be as simple as learning how to reframe situations, control your breathing and repair relationships with others.

Alcoholic anonymous is the most effective approach for maintaining sobriety.

Does Drinking Make Anxiety Worse?

While drinking alcohol may initially seem to help your anxiety, the positive effects are short lived. Alcohol can cause changes to the chemistry of your brain, leading to worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In addition, because some people come to rely on alcohol to manage their anxiety rather than developing effective coping strategies, it can lead to an unhealthy and dependent relationship that fails to provide them with long-lasting relief or progress.

Does Mental Health Improve After Quitting Alcohol?

Yes! Studies have shown that individuals (even those who are light or moderate drinkers) have shown improved mental health upon quitting alcohol.

This does not mean that quitting alcohol alone will cure mental illness or provide an effective treatment option for all individuals, but it could provide some relief and should be explored as part of a comprehensive mental health plan.

Is Alcoholism a Mental Illness?

Alcohol use disorder is a recognized mental illness. This refers to an individual who struggles to manage their alcohol consumption, is preoccupied with alcohol use and/or continues to drink even when acknowledging that alcohol may be having a negative effect on their health and wellbeing.

Luckily, treatment is available for those who struggle with alcohol use disorders, and therapy can be an effective part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

What are Some Signs That You Are Drinking Too Much or Too Often?

While alcohol consumption is a personal choice, there are a number of warning signs that may suggest that you might benefit from a reduction or elimination of alcohol: 

  • Inability to limit alcohol consumption
  • Spending large quantities of time drinking or recovering from alcohol use
  • Craving alcohol when you are without it
  • Failing to fulfill obligations or complete tasks due to alcohol consumption
  • Continuing to drink despite negative impacts on your health or wellbeing

Counseling can provide a safe space to discuss alcohol use and its effects on your life and the lives of others. Everyone can benefit from talking to a therapist about the role of alcohol use in their lives.