Published: 11 December 2019
You may not realise that alcohol could be impacting on your mental health.
LOVE SATURDAY NIGHTS but feel pretty low by the time Sunday morning comes around? Your alcohol use may explain this.
1. Alcohol is a depressant
One of the times when alcohol’s impact on mental health is the most obvious is the morning after drinking, especially if you have drunk too much the previous day, whether that has been over a long or short period.
Why is this? Alcohol is a depressant which affects your brain’s natural level of happiness chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. This means that although you’ll feel an initial ‘boost’ the night before, the next day you will be deficient in these same chemicals, which may lead to feeling anxious, down or depressed.
2. Hangovers are really tough on your health
You can begin to feel low from the physical effect of a hangover, including tiredness, headache, sensitivity to light (caused by acetaldehyde, which makes the nervous system extra sensitive), thirst and bad breath.
It can also include trembling (caused by low blood sugar as alcohol impacts the liver) and sickness (alcohol increases acid in your stomach, making you feel sick or vomit), making the day after drinking particularly unpleasant.
3. It can cause anxiety (even if you’ve never had it before)
People tend to drink more when experiencing moderate to high levels of shyness or fear, and those who suffer from anxiety can be tempted to use alcohol to help cope with it. Initially you may feel like it provides relief to some symptoms as it depresses the central nervous system but it can worsen these symptoms in the long-run.
Drinking to relieve stress can in the long-term worsen that stress, intensifying anxiety and irritability after drinking. As it leaves the body, alcohol’s effects on brain chemistry can cause the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, even in people who never suffered anxiety.
4. It can intensify negative emotions
Alcohol can release pent-up emotions or make feelings of anger and frustration feel more intense, which can cause an impact on your health, friendships, family and work. It can bring about changes in our thinking and we can often experience frustration when we discover our “foggy brain” doesn’t allow us to think as clearly as normal.
Similar to its impact on anxiety, not only can alcohol worsen depression, it can actually cause it too. When the effects of alcohol wear off, it changes our brain chemistry for the worse. In fact, people who drink heavily are more likely to suffer from depression, and alcohol dependence is roughly three times more likely among people with depression.
5. It can negatively affect your sleep
A good night’s sleep restores our body and minds and is vital to minding your mental health. Because alcohol is a depressant it makes you sleepy at times but the sleep you get after drinking is of a much lower quality than the sleep you get when you are not drinking.
This is because alcohol can reduce the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep you get, leaving you feeling drowsy, low in energy and you may find it harder to concentrate the next day.
6. It stops you from developing healthy coping mechanisms
It is worthwhile to learn healthy coping mechanisms in response to emotions like stress, sadness and anger that do not involve or rely on alcohol. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to get the right support for your individual needs. In fact, a study by the HSE into alcohol-related harm found that, “those who were engaged in regular heavy drinking were less likely to use positive coping strategies when dealing with anxiety and depression.”
If a person repeatedly turns to alcohol when their mood deteriorates, they miss out on the opportunity of discovering the other, more effective, ways of dealing with unpleasant moods. learning new ways to cope can make us stronger, healthier and happier in the long term.
7. Blackouts can be an indicator of something more
Following a heavy drinking session, many people can experience blackouts especially if they have drunk quickly or on an empty stomach both of which can lead to a rapid rise in Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). Blackouts are defined as loss of memory during which a person is capable of participating in dialogue, emotionally charged events, as well as mundane events—that they later cannot remember.
Waking up and not remembering how you got home, what you said or how you behaved can result in intense fear and anxiety causing levels of distress lasting days. Blackouts are a sign of a drinking problem and if you’re experiencing them, the advice is to self-assess your drinking pattern or to seek professional help.