How does alcohol relate to my mental health?
When people drink alcohol, they often notice that it lifts their mood and changes the way that they feel. That’s what makes it such a powerful drug, and that also means it can influence our mental health. You may not realise that drinking is affecting your health. But there can be early warning signs. Mental health symptoms caused by problem drinking include:
- memory problems
- concentration problems
- finding it hard to learn new things
- personality changes
- hazy thinking
If you use alcohol to cope with stress and worry, you miss out on developing healthy coping skills. Coping skills include:
- talking about your problems
- getting professional help
- using stress management techniques
- The next time you face a challenge, you may feel more overwhelmed and more likely to turn to alcohol again.
Poor sleep, hangovers and health problems can also make you feel less able to cope.
Getting drunk or spending too much time drinking can cause arguments. It can also result in neglecting or hurting the people you care about.
Mental health conditions
Alcohol can make the symptoms of mental health conditions worse. For example, depression and anxiety. Your mood can improve when you cut down or stop drinking. Using alcohol to manage social anxiety can prevent you from developing social and coping skills.
You may also:
- start to rely on alcohol
- feel very anxious in social situations where alcohol isn’t available
- start to avoid social situations
- Social anxiety is more than shyness. It’s a fear that continues after the social event.
Social anxiety (social phobia)
There are different ways that alcohol can affect our feelings. It can make us feel less shy or inhibited, so we might feel more confident than usual, or it can make feelings that we don’t normally show come to the surface more easily, such as anger.
Using alcohol to numb emotions
‘Drowning your sorrows’ is a common reaction to difficult emotions. Sometimes you might not even know what’s bothering you. You just know that you feel bad and want to forget for a while. Alcohol can give you temporary relief. You may find that you need to drink more to stay numb and avoid your emotions. This can lead to dependence on alcohol.
Sometimes we can be going through a tough time that is hard to deal with. It is understandable l to want to forget things when they are tough for a time, and sometimes drinking a lot can cause us to do that or can distract us from thinking about them. However, if we manage to succeed, that can make us want to do it more often, and sometimes this can add more problems to the tough time we are already having. Alcohol can make bad feelings come to the surface or make them feel more intense. This is one of the reasons you may become upset, angry or aggressive when drinking. Trying to manage these feelings when you have been drinking can lead to:
- thoughts of suicide
- Alcohol and anger
Alcohol can release pent-up feelings. It can also make feelings of anger and frustration more intense. Alcohol can be used as an excuse for behaviour. This can lead to deep regret if you have caused any hurt.
Alcohol and low self-esteem
Having low self-esteem can undermine your:
- quality of life
- ability to be happy
Alcohol is a temporary and sometimes damaging response to a longer-term problem. It may stop you from finding ways to cope and maintain your self-esteem. Your drinking may become heavier or you may start to rely on alcohol. This can lead to behaving in a way that makes you feel worse about yourself.
Alcohol and stress
You may drink alcohol to relieve stress or to relax. If when we drink, we feel more confident, sometimes others around us can respond in a way that we like, because we might be seen as being good ‘craic’. It’s nice to have people react positively to us, but the danger is that we might feel like we want to drink more often in order to have that feeling happen more often. It also might make people around us think that things are going ok when in reality we might be having a tough time. Alcohol may make you feel relaxed at first. But when the effects wear off, the stress and the problems that are causing the stress are still there. They may also be worse.
Alcohol, self-harm and suicide
Alcohol can make you more likely to act in an uncontrolled or impulsive way. There is a strong link between alcohol abuse, self-harm and suicide. Your risk of suicide increases if you are abusing alcohol.
How Can I Reduce the Risks Around Alcohol?
People may use alcohol for different reasons such as to relax, or to socialise with friends, even during COVID-19 as we meet up virtually meet-up with a friends There are things we can do to reduce the harms.
If we have a good understanding of how much alcohol we are drinking in each type of drink, we can keep better track of our intake, and learn to judge when we have had enough. In Ireland a Standard Drink has about 10 grams of pure alcohol in it. Do you know what a Standard Drink is for the type of alcohol that you like to drink?
|Drink||Strength||Amount||No. of Standard Drinks|
|Beer/ lager/ stout||Normal (about 4.5%)||Half a pint||1|
|Strong (7%)||Half a pint||1.5|
|pint/ 500ml can||3|
|wine||12.5%||Quarter of a bottle (185.7ml)||2|
|14%||Quarter of a bottle (185.7ml)||2|
|Spirits (vodka, whiskey, gin, etc)||40%||750ml bottle||24|
|Single measure in a pub (35ml)||1|
If you wanted to have a single Standard Drink, that would equal the following:
- A pub measure of spirits (35.5ml)
- A small glass of wine (12.5% volume)
- A half pint of normal beer
- An alcopop (275ml bottle)
In Ireland, bottles and cans don’t tell you the number of Standard Drinks they contain, so that’s why it’s important to know for yourself how many Standard Drinks are in a typical bottle or glass of what you’re drinking
As we mentioned before, drinking can be something we can, and to do that it helps to know in the course of a week how our drinking measures against the guidelines for low risk drinking. In Ireland, it is recommended that adult women drink less than 11 standard drinks, and that adult men dink less than 17 standard drinks. That would be less than five and a half pints of beer for women and less than eight and a half pints for men per week, for example.
Calculate how much you are drinking: https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/alcohol/drinks-calculator/?gclid=CjwKCAjw_Y_8BRBiEiwA5MCBJi9ujL7Kmyyh8SM7R09W5duZvKvlOMKwhcfXJZSA0mvFc4M7Knh3ChoCIb4QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
There are different things you can do to make sure you’re keeping control of the amount that you’re having, and reducing your intake levels to be in line with those low-risk guidelines:
- Avoid using if you are feeling low, anxious, depressed or have mental health concerns.
- Try to not use to cope with difficult situations.
- You may be drinking differently at home than you would in a social setting this may mean that you are drinking alone now while on zoom calls. These changes could impact how we react with alcohol. Think about how you are feeling and reacting to alcohol at the moment.
- Try to develop a daily routine and delay drinking until as late as possible – try not to drink during the day.
- Have at least 2 – 3 alcohol free days per week.
- Stay hydrated by having a water or other non-alcoholic drink as every second drink
- Eat well before you drink and don’t consume alcohol on an empty stomach
- Measure your drinks using a shot glass or egg cup, don’t pour straight from the bottle
- Avoid buying alcohol in bulk and choose low-alcohol or alcohol-free drinks
- Prepare for peer pressure. Try to tell your friends you usually drink with about your plans to cut down, so they understand. Reasons for this could be diet, medication, fitness, or an early start in the morning! Remind your friends that everyone reacts differently, what works for your friends might not work for you.
- Check out USI/STAND calendar for alternative events without alcohol (https://www.10000students.ie/calendar)
- There may be certain times you associate with drinking e.g late at night or at the weekend. Think how you will get through these moments before they happen and find more advice here.
- Avoid using alcohol to cope with stressful feelings. Using alcohol to help with emotions could quickly become a pattern and a norm that you rely on to support yourself.
- Alcohol can have risky interactions with illegal drugs and some prescription medication. Learn more here. Speak with your GP or pharmacist.
- If you choose to drink, avoid doing this in public spaces or other people’s homes due to the current public health measures
- For more information about alcohol go to www.askaboutalcohol.ie
There’s lots more information and support available if you need it.
- If you feel like you’re using alcohol to numb your emotions because of stress, contact your college counselling services to arrange an appointment to talk to someone
- For useful resources on your mental health go to the ‘Mind Your Mental Health’ on usi.ie
- HSE’s yourmentalhealth.ie has specific advice on how to mind your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak
- You may have grown up with a parent or older sibling with substance use problems which may be affecting your mental health and relationships – alcoholactionireland.ie/silentvoices has a range of helpful resources.
- Find a drug and alcohol service at drugs.ie/services or call the HSE Drug and Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459 Monday – Friday 9:30 am – 5:30 pm or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you feel you are at risk of suicide during the pandemic, call 999/112 or present to the nearest Accident and Emergency Department