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How alcohol affects your mental health

Using alcohol to cope with difficult feelings or problems can create more problems.

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

Mental health symptoms caused by problem drinking include:

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

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

Related topic

Anxiety

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.

Your mood can improve when you cut down or stop drinking.

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 isn't available
  • start to avoid social situations

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

Related topics

Alcohol and depression

Social anxiety (social phobia)

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.

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

Related topic

Alcohol dependence

Releasing emotions

Alcohol can 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.

Alcohol can be used as an excuse for behaviour. This can lead to deep regret if you have caused any hurt.

Related topic

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 maintain 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.

Related topic

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.

Related topic

The causes of stress and how to manage it

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.

Related topic

Self-harm

Call 999 or 112 if you or someone you know is about to harm themselves or someone else.

page last reviewed: 08/11/2019
next review due: 08/11/2022

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