How alcohol affects your mental health

Using alcohol to cope with difficult feelings or problems can be a tempting short term solution. But it can lead to significant mental health problems.

You may not realise that drinking is affecting your mental health. But there can be early warning signs.

Mental health symptoms caused by problem drinking include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • memory problems
  • concentration problems
  • finding it hard to learn new things
  • personality changes
  • hazy thinking

Talk to your GP if you have any of these symptoms.

Coping skills

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.

Relationships

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.

Cutting down or stopping drinking has the direct effect of improving mood.

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 is not available
  • start to avoid social situations

Social anxiety is more than shyness. It's a fear that continues after the social event.

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, but this is brief. The ultimate effect is lowered mood and higher anxiety.

You may find that you need to drink more to stay numb and avoid your emotions. This can lead to alcohol dependence.

Releasing emotions

Alcohol can lower inhibitions and 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:

  • arguments
  • violence
  • self-harm
  • thoughts of suicide

Alcohol and anger

Alcohol can release pent-up feelings. It can also make feelings of anger and frustration more intense. This can lead to deep regret if you have caused any hurt.

Understanding and managing anger

Alcohol and low self-esteem

Having low self-esteem can undermine your:

  • quality of life
  • achievements
  • relationships
  • 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 improve 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.

Building self-confidence

Alcohol and stress

You may drink alcohol to relieve stress or to relax.

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, causing a greater need to drink.

Causes of stress and how it can impact on you

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.

Immediate action required: Call 112 or 999 if:

  • if you or someone you know is about to harm themselves or someone else

Page last reviewed: 20 August 2022
Next review due: 20 August 2025