There are many substances that may have a direct connection with mental health in people who use (and especially overuse) them, and alcohol is a good example. As one of the most widely-available substances in the US, one that’s legal for those over 21, alcohol is often used and misused in ways that speak to mental health — whether users realize it or not.
At Moonlight Mountain Recovery, alcohol recovery and detox services are just some of the caring, quality addiction recovery programs we offer to patients throughout various parts of Idaho. The connections between alcohol and mental health are regular topics we discuss during our programs, as understanding them may help some who struggle with alcohol addiction to realize the consequences of their behaviors and help alter them. Here’s a primer on how alcohol may impact mental health, especially when it’s overused or leaned on as a replacement for healthier forms of mental health treatment.
General Connection Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Before we dig specifically into some of the mental health conditions alcohol may interact with or exacerbate, it’s important to understand the general connection between substance abuse and mental health. Studies have found that people who suffer from mental health conditions are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. They may do so to try and numb troubling symptoms or make them more manageable.
On the other hand, abusing substances may lead to the development of mental health conditions. People who abuse drugs or alcohol are significantly more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those who do not, for example. There is also a correlation between substance abuse and developing psychosis later in life.
This is why it’s often difficult to determine which came first — the mental health disorder or the substance abuse. It may be that both developed simultaneously, or one may have preceded the other.
Now let’s take a look at some of the more specific ways in which alcohol abuse may impact mental health…
Alcohol and Depression
One of the most common and well-known connections between alcohol and mental health is the link between alcohol and depression. Depression is a serious mental health condition that causes persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. It may also lead to a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed, fatigue, irritability, trouble concentrating, changes in appetite, and more.
Alcohol is a depressant, which means it tends to slow down the body and brain. This can lead to feelings of relaxation and sedation, which may be why some people who suffer from depression turn to alcohol. Unfortunately, drinking alcohol to cope with depression can actually make symptoms worse.
To be clear, this does not necessarily mean that anyone who deals with depression simply cannot consume alcohol. It’s important to consult with a doctor to figure out what is best for you, as there are many factors that contribute to depression. However, it’s generally advisable to avoid drinking if you’re dealing with depression and to be especially mindful of how alcohol may interact with any medications you may be taking — and if alcohol use begins to creep up as a coping mechanism, it’s time to seek help.
Alcohol and Anxiety
Anxiety is another common mental health condition that may be exacerbated by alcohol use. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry about everyday things for at least six months. Other symptoms can include trembling, muscle tension, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and more.
Similar to depression, alcohol is a depressant and can worsen the symptoms of anxiety. It’s also easy to develop a dependency on alcohol to “take the edge off” of feelings of anxiety. This is dangerous because it can quickly lead to an addiction.
And unfortunately, anxiety is also often a major trigger for those who suffer from alcoholism. Many of the same things that lead to anxiety will also lead to a relapse into drinking, such as feeling overwhelmed or stressed. This creates a vicious cycle that is difficult to break free from without help.
Alcohol and Self-Harm and Suicide
Whether due to the above conditions or related to other underlying issues, alcohol can also lead to self-harm behaviors in some people. Self-harm is when someone deliberately hurts themselves as a way of coping with difficult emotions or thoughts. This may include cutting, burning, hitting, or hair pulling. Self-harm is not a healthy coping mechanism and should be addressed immediately if it becomes a problem.
Alcohol can also increase the risk of suicide. In fact, alcohol is involved in a high number of all suicide cases. This may be due to the way alcohol impairs judgement and increases the chances of engaging in risky behaviors. It can also make it harder to see problems objectively or to seek help.
For all of the above reasons and more, it’s important to seek help if you are struggling with alcohol abuse and its impact on your mental health. There are many resources available, including counseling, therapy, and support groups. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help — it can make all the difference.
Down similar lines, if you’re a friend or loved one of someone who you believe is seeing their mental health impacted by alcohol, it’s important to have a conversation. It may be difficult, but it could save their life.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911. For more crisis resources, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
For more on how alcohol abuse impacts mental health and vice versa, or to learn about any of our alcohol or drug addiction recovery programs, speak to the pros at Moonlight Mountain Recovery today.