Alcohol and mental health – what you need to know18 Feb 2020
Many people enjoy a glass of wine or a beer on the weekend and have experienced a sore head the morning after. However, if this practice becomes a routine, you could find yourself consuming a lot more alcohol than you realise. Although enjoyed in moderation, alcohol is fine, excessive use can have a detrimental effect on both your mental and physical health. Reevaluating your relationship with alcohol is a positive step towards a healthy body and better mindfulness. Many people use alcohol to mask their emotions, and by doing so they don’t address their problems. Understand why you might be drinking excessively and take steps to resolve this situation. Not only will you reduce your consumption, but will be actively improving your life.
How alcohol affects you and your mental health
Although alcohol can make you happy and relaxed, it’s actually a depressant which can also make you feel aggressive and anxious. It alters the chemicals and nerves in your brain that help to regulate mood, resulting in some negative mental health effects. Relationships are often affected when a person is drinking excessively. An individual may act recklessly under the influence, and then irritable when experiencing a hangover. This can have an effect on friends, family and loved ones, further contributing to bad mental health. Getting a good nights sleep is vital both mentally and physically. Alcohol can disrupt our sleep, leaving us groggy and lethargic. It’s a common misconception that a “night-cap” is a good way to drift off. In reality, sleep triggered by alcohol isn’t beneficial and you may wake up feeling worse.
How can I reduce my consumption?
There are many ways you can keep an eye on your drinking habits. Making a conscious decision to cut down is the first step to making positive improvements. Find a way of tracking exactly how much you drink is a good way to visualise your consumption. There are various apps you can use to track your units and by doing so you can make plans to reduce them. Set achievable goals for yourself and plan non-alcohol related rewards if you can achieve them. Even if you start slowly, you can steadily accomplish your goals. Read about dry January and how it can help to reset your relationship with alcohol.
Whilst drinking, avoid salty food like nuts and crisps which can make you thirsty and consume more alcohol. Try and have a soft drink in-between as this will keep you hydrated and reduce the number of units you’ll consume. If you have a social event that involves alcohol, make a conscious effort to chat with people and enjoy their company. Engage in interesting conversations which don’t send you to the bar. If you need an incentive to not drink altogether, offer to be the designated driver for friends or family. This way you’re also responsible for other people so won’t be tempted to order a taxi.
What else can be done to reduce stress?
Exercise is a great way to boost endorphins and relieve stress. Although it’s easier said than done, try going for a walk or a run when you’re stressed instead of using alcohol. It doesn’t have the instant gratification effect of alcohol but exercise can improve how you feel in the long run. If you are going to indulge in a drink, be mindful of how many units you’re consuming. One unit of alcohol is typically a 4% beer, a small glass of 14% wine or a standard 4% alcopop. It is not recommended to regularly exceed 14 units a week. If you are, it might be time to rethink your relationship with alcohol.
Where to get help?
There are many services around that can help with alcohol misuse, such as:
Robinson, L., Segal, J. Ph.D, Smith, M. M.A. 2019, The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise, Help Guide, Accessed 15 January 2019, <https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm>
Drink Aware. 2019, What is an alcohol unit?, Drink Aware, Accessed 15 January 2019 <https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcoholic-drinks-units/what-is-an-alcohol-unit/>
Drink Aware. 2019, Alcohol and Depression, Drink Aware, Accessed 15 January 2019 <https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-and-depression?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIipnA_62F5wIVB7TtCh2uzwzGEAAYASAAEgJCYfD_BwE>
Sleep Foundation.org, How Alcohol Affects the Quality—And Quantity—Of Sleep, Sleep Foundation, Accessed 15 January 2019 <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-alcohol-affects-quality-and-quantity-sleep>
Drink Aware. 2019, Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app, Drink Aware, Accessed 15 January 2019, <https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/tools/app/>
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Written by Kat Baker, Digital Marketing Assistant.
This blog was not written by a qualified mental health nurse. For more information please view the references.