The Hidden Perils: Alcohol and Mental Health

Alcohol – a ubiquitous companion at celebrations, social gatherings, and moments of solace. But beneath its seemingly harmless facade lies a complex relationship with our mental well-being.

Alcohol and depression often intertwine, creating a complex relationship. Alcohol is a depressant and regular drinking to excess is proven to worsen mental health. Alcohol also can prevent medication from working properly, or be a dangerous combination for many physical health conditions. While some people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, it can also exacerbate symptoms of depression.

Alcohol dependence is a significant public health concern, affecting hundreds of thousands of people in England alone. But what’s often overlooked is the intricate link between alcohol use and mental health. In this article, we explore this connection, highlight key findings, and discuss how we can provide appropriate treatment.

The Numbers

• Approximately 589,000 people in England are dependent on alcohol.
• About a quarter of them receive mental health medication, primarily for anxiety, depression, sleep problems, psychosis, or bipolar disorder.
• Sadly, mental health patients with a history of alcohol misuse face an elevated risk of death by suicide. Between 2007 and 2017, there were 5,963 suicides in this group, accounting for about 10% of all suicides in England.

Co-Occurring Conditions

• Over half of those in alcohol treatment express a need for help with their mental health.
• Academic evidence suggests that the proportion of people with co-occurring mental ill-health in the alcohol treatment system is likely even higher.
The Connection
• Self-Medication: People with depression may use alcohol to self-medicate. It temporarily numbs feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and worthlessness.
• Vicious Cycle: Alcohol acts as a sedative, providing momentary relief. However, persistent and excessive drinking can worsen depression over time.
• Risk Factors: Some individuals with depression are more likely to drink excessively, while heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of developing major depressive disorder.

Mental Health Impact

• Depression and Anxiety: Heavy alcohol consumption can exacerbate existing mental health conditions or trigger new ones.
• Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns often accompany excessive drinking.
• Mood Swings: Alcohol alters mood, leading to anxiety, irritability, and emotional instability.
• Memory and Concentration: Chronic alcohol use impairs memory and focus.
• Relationship Strain: Alcohol-related tension can strain family and romantic relationships.

The Physical Risks

• Cancer: Regularly exceeding the recommended alcohol limits can lead to mouth cancer, throat cancer, and even breast cancer.
• Heart Disease and Stroke: Alcohol abuse increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
• Liver Disease: Chronic alcohol use takes a toll on the liver, potentially leading to liver disease.
• Brain Damage: Excessive drinking harms the nervous system and can cause brain damage.
• Self-Harm and Suicide: Research shows a strong link between alcohol misuse and self-harming behaviors, including suicide.

No “Safe” Level

Remember, there’s no truly “safe” level of alcohol consumption. Even moderate drinking carries risks. If you’re concerned about your mental health or alcohol use, seek professional help. And if you’re pregnant, avoiding alcohol altogether is the safest choice for your baby.

Breaking the Cycle

• Seek Help: Recognize the symptoms of both depression and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Professional diagnosis and treatment are crucial.
• Quit Drinking: Studies show that quitting alcohol can significantly improve depression symptoms. Remember to speak to health care professional about safely reducing alcohol levels gradually, as doing this suddenly can be dangerous and interact with medication
• Holistic Approach: Address mental health and substance use together for better outcomes.

In Summary

Understanding the interplay between alcohol and mental health is crucial. By recognizing the connection and providing integrated care, we can improve outcomes for those affected by both alcoholism and mental health conditions.

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to a healthcare professional or a helpline today. Below is a selection of places to go for information and help:

NHS Alcohol support

For Further Support:

For further mental wellbeing support including Emotional Resilience courses or if you want to know more about relaxation techniques or positive distraction and therapeutic activities please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Darlington Mind also has a variety of other services which may be of interest to you and to assist with your need, please contact us via the following options: Email: or Tel: 01325 283169 Mobile: 07572 888084 – see our services and support

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