Alcohol Addiction and its Effect on Mental Health January 14th, 2021

Mental ill-health negatively impacts physical health and can erode one’s quality of life. It is estimated by the World Health Organization that a staggering 25% of the global population are faced with mental health issues at some point in their lifetime.

One of the key contributory factors to the erosion of mental health and the exacerbation of pre-existing mental illnesses is stress. In the modern, digital era where we are constantly connected to the workplace, our social circles and the world, our lives are filled with lots of clutter, noise and competition. There is an information overflow, mounting workloads, increasing expectations from all quarters and an unparalleled pressure to perform. These factors are causing chronic stress and burnout.

Two questions that boggle modern existence are: How does one manage the increasing levels of stress? How does one improve one’s mental health and quality of life?

Alcohol and Mental Health: The Vicious Cycle

Since alcohol has been a part of human society and civilization for time immemorial, we do not consider it to be a drug. In our quest to cope with daily stresses, escape emotions, relax, induce sleep and so on, we often turn to alcohol.

Like any other drug, excessive consumption of alcohol leads to poor mental health, often causing psychological problems/ mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, etc. or exacerbates existing mental health issues.

Not just that, it has also been found that those with underlying psychiatric/ psychological issues, diagnosed or not, have a higher propensity to abuse alcohol (and other substances).

What Kinds of Mental Illnesses Are Caused by Alcohol Addiction?

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorder
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Alcohol and Mood

Does alcohol actually ‘lighten’ the mood?

No. Alcohol is a depressant and slows down the central nervous system, changes the chemical makeup of the brain and slows the body down. This, in turn, can alter the mood, energy level, sleep patterns, concentration, behaviour and so on.

While alcohol does help us sleep faster, its regular consumption and abuse lead to poor sleep quality. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and when consumed excessively, it can lead to risky behaviour, impaired decision-making, aggression and even self-harm.

Since it numbs us down and provides us with a way to escape negative/ strong emotions or difficult life situations, it is often the go-to coping mechanism and form of self-medication. However, regular consumption of alcohol for coping and numbing purposes leads to alcohol dependence. This is because of the erosion of serotonin levels in the brain by excessive alcohol, which exacerbates depression/ anxiety/ other mental health problems and necessitates more alcohol to cope with the situation.

Conclusion

Should one not consume alcohol at all? No. Moderation is key. A drink or two on occasions is not bad at all. Relying on alcohol, however, to lighten the mood or go to sleep or cope with difficult circumstances is where the problem lies. There are better and healthier ways to manage stress and mental health issues. For instance, eating a nourishing and balanced diet, talking to friends, meditation, finding balance and exercising, among others. If you think you are alcohol dependent or addicted, you must get professional help.

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