5 Ways Alcohol Impacts Mental Health
Alcohol is a social lubricant, a staple of almost all events from baby showers to graduations and dinner parties. Reaching the legal drinking age is one of the most celebrated events of a young adult’s life. Yet, alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances readily available to us. It impacts mental and physical health and can have debilitating, life-altering impacts. It is the only drug—and yes, it is a drug—that people have to explain not using. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and a perfect time to highlight alcohol’s many effects on mental health.
At CW Psychological Services in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania we work with clients of all ages and backgrounds on caring for and improving their mental well-being. We frequently assist clients who are struggling with alcohol use and help guide them to a healthier path. Alcohol is an addictive substance that, despite popular belief, offers no benefits to your physical or mental well-being. Research released in January of this year shows that even small amounts of regular alcohol consumption can lead to increases in heart disease, blood pressure, and cancer risk.
Here are five ways alcohol impacts your mental health:
1.) Alcohol can increase and cause depression symptoms.
People drink for many reasons—whether it be for celebration, relaxation, to change moods/drown sorrows. It is a go-to choice for those looking for a quick fix: helping people to feel more relaxed, courageous, or confident. But, those benefits are only temporary. Once that first drink starts to wear off, usually between 30 minutes and an hour after consumption, you start to feel down, tired, or sluggish. This is often why people will grab another drink shortly after the first. But, why does alcohol make you feel this way?
Alcohol is a depressant that affects your brain’s natural levels of happiness chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. That is why even though you feel an initial boost of happiness it quickly fades and creates a deficiency of these hormones in your body. Ultimately, it can worsen depression symptoms or lead a user to become depressed.
2.) Alcohol causes anxiety.
Have you ever heard of “hang-xiety?” Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with your heart racing unable to fall back asleep after consuming alcohol? This is because alcohol intensifies anxiety and irritability after drinking. As it leaves the body, alcohol affects brain chemistry causing symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks even in those who did not previously suffer from anxiety.
3.) Alcohol disrupts sleep.
It is a common train of thought to think of alcohol as a sleep aid. After all, it does often make you feel tired and help you to fall asleep. But, staying asleep and getting productive, healthy sleep is another thing altogether. Blood sugar imbalances and the release of stress hormones in response to the body metabolizing alcohol causes us to get poor quality sleep (less time spent in REM), and less of it (cue 3 a.m. wake up). Poor quality sleep directly impacts mood and our ability to cope with life’s daily stressors.
4.) Alcohol slows brain activity.
Alcohol impacts your central nervous system, slowing brain activity—hence why it is referred to as a “depressant.” Because of this, it can change your mood, behavior, and self-control. It can cause problems with memory and thinking clearly. This is why you may not remember a night of drinking with the same clarity you would remember a non-drinking night. Alcohol can also affect coordination and physical control, often causing people to stumble or drop items when under the influence. Drinking too much can also cause other physical problems like stomach upset, high blood pressure, headache, and increased heart rate.
5.) Alcohol is addictive and can lead to Alcohol Use Disorder.
Alcohol is an addictive substance that can impact anyone. A person is considered to have developed Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) when they can no longer control their alcohol consumption. They may have the desire to decrease alcohol use but find it extremely difficult, or feel like it is impossible, to do so. Symptoms include high tolerance, always looking for alcohol, having cravings for alcohol, and withdrawal symptoms when trying to abstain from consumption, among other things. People with AUD will often continue to drink even when their behavior is impacting relationships, careers, and other activities they once enjoyed.
Alcohol use should be taken seriously, no matter if you drink one or two drinks a week or ten. Everyone needs to understand the short-term and long-term impacts of alcohol on mental and physical well-being.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use, you may want to consider getting help from a licensed mental health or medical professional.
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Counselors and associate-level clinicians at CW Psychological Services are professionally trained. We have openings for online or telehealth therapy appointments. Email us at [email protected] or call (610) 308-7575. We are here for you.