mental health and alcohol

Alcohol and Mental Health – What’s the Link?

If you’ve suspected alcohol is making you anxious and/or depressed– you’d be right. The link between alcohol and mental health issues is undeniable.

For so many of us, it’s difficult to know what came first… Did we use alcohol to take the edge off feeling anxious? Or is alcohol making us anxious?

Most of us are already aware that alcohol is a chemical depressant and with each drink we consume, our brain takes steps to counter the depressive effects that the alcohol has caused. When the alcohol wears off, we are left with a chemical imbalance in our brain which often leaves us feeling anxious and nervous. It can sometimes take days for the natural homeostasis in our brain to restore after consuming alcohol, and if we don’t often go days between drinks, we are constantly living with this chemical imbalance and the effect it has on our mood, outlook and emotions.

Women use alcohol to cope with stress

Studies show 1 in 5 women with anxiety report using alcohol to cope with stress and 20% of women diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder suffer from anxiety or a mood disorder. The link between women, alcohol and anxiety has never been stronger. Alcohol can exacerbate an existing anxiety disorder while untreated anxiety can lead women to use alcohol to “medicate” their symptoms.

Why we find ourselves in a vicious cycle

We often think of self-care as a glass of wine to “relax”. Drinking allows us to “switch off” and stop feeling so tense. The bad news is that the source of the tension doesn’t change, and alcohol makes those tense feelings worse the next day. And on it goes. Add to this the fact that alcohol also massively impacts our sleep and we are left feeling less able to cope with stress and we feel more exhausted and irritable. We end up in a vicious cycle of trying to take the edge off anxiety while actually adding to our anxiety with alcohol. We are feeding the problem.

Spot the signs alcohol may be triggering anxiety:

  1.   You wake up feeling more stressed than when you drank the night before to “take the edge off’.
  2.   Your ‘hangxiety’ is crippling. It takes you days to recover not just physically but emotionally and mentally from a hangover.
  3.   You are drinking more and more to numb your emotions and avoid uncomfortable feelings.
  4.   You are struggling to find joy or happiness in daily experiences that used to make you happy. You find you are more and more only looking forward to events where you can drink and notice that most of your socialising revolves around alcohol.

Let’s talk about “hangxiety”…

Ever woken up from a night of drinking with a plunging feeling of doom and shame? You feel physically panicked about what you may have said and your mind is racing. If you can’t remember parts of the night, you feel the deepest regret and self-loathing. This is sometimes referred to as “hangxiety” – a hangover of anxiety caused by alcohol. Some of us feel this so acutely, the shame and anxiety makes us want to drink more the next day in order to escape these feelings.

Why it might be time to quit drinking – for your mental health:

  1.   You’ll sleep better. Alcohol interferes with sleep cycles and disrupts REM sleep – the deepest sleep stage. A lack of sleep can have a huge impact on your mood. Sleep 7 – 9 hours sleep every night and you’ll feel the enormous mental health benefits of quality sleep.
  2.   Studies show drinking regularly makes it more difficult to cope with stress. Alcohol masks stress in the short-term but in the long run can make stress worse. Taking a break from alcohol forces you to face issues in a real way and process emotions properly.
  3.   No hangovers. Bounding out of bed on a Sunday morning gives you extra time with loved ones. It gives you extra time simply to ENJOY your life feeling energised and vital. Your self-esteem is boosted along with your confidence.
  4.   You get to know a version of you that you may never have ‘met’ before. It takes 48-72 hours for the effects of alcohol to leave our body. Even if we only drink 3 times a week (and not everyday), we are never really giving ourselves the opportunity to reach our full potential. Giving yourself a decent break from alcohol to notice the impact on your mood, energy, sleep, motivation, work performance and relationships can be the greatest gift you ever give yourself.

Find out more about Grey Area Drinking and Sarah Rusbatch here

To read about Sarah’s upcoming 30 day Alcohol Free Challenge offering 30 days of support, resources, and tools to change drinking habits long term– click here.

If you want to read more resources about self-development and mental health, check out our workplace happiness and team building resources.

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