With the 2019 Pfizer Health Index finding that 16% of Irish people reporting suffering from depression or anxiety related conditions, the relationship between alcohol and mental health is important to consider. This World Mental Health Day, we look at how alcohol can impact our mental health and tips for good mental health.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE WITH ALCOHOL?
Alcohol can contribute to the development of mental health problems including depression and anxiety, as well as making existing problems worse. In fact, drinking when you’re anxious or stressed to improve your mood can have the opposite effect. While alcohol may temporarily appear to ease feelings of stress or depression, over time the opposite effect may occur.
The Drinkaware Index 2019 report found that many Irish adults are drinking for reasons associated with emotional wellbeing – 50% cited “coping” as a reason for drinking, and this rises to 64% for under-25s. The coping reasons cited include: ‘to cheer you up when in a bad mood or feeling stressed’; ‘to forget about your problems’; ‘because it helps when feeling depressed or anxious’.
Alcohol is a depressant, which disrupts how the brain functions and affect our thoughts, feelings and actions. Alcohol affects the levels chemicals or neurotransmitters in our brain, for example, serotonin, which regulates happiness. This change to the brain processes causes the relaxed feeling you may get after your first drink but this change is also responsible for feelings of anxiety or depression you may experience the next day. Regular and heavy drinking interferes with these chemicals in our brains that are needed for strong, balanced mental health.
TIPS FOR GOOD MENTAL HEALTH
- Make time for family and friends: Good relationships are important for your mental health. It’s important that we feel connected and part of something. Spending time and sharing how you are feeling with family, friends and your community has been shown to have a positive impact on your mood and ability to deal with problems. Is there someone you have been meaning to reach out to? Why not get in touch this week?
- Keep active and rest well: Regular exercise and being active release chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins trigger positive feelings in the body. This helps to lift your mood, reduce stress and anxiety and increases energy. Alcohol, even just a few drinks, can affect how well you sleep which can lead to a bad night’s rest. This means you will have less energy the following day and may be less motivated to keep active. You might consider joining a local walking group or why not ask friends to form a team to help keep you motivated?
- Focus on the positives: Our thoughts are often affected by things that are happening in our lives such as stress at work, relationships and financial burden. While it may not always seem true, we can control our thoughts. Try to think about each thought you have, is it helpful or unhelpful? Focussing on unhelpful negative thoughts can drain energy and stop you from moving forward. More helpful, positive thoughts broaden a sense of possibility and opens up your mind to more options.
- Eat well: A balanced nutritious diet is just as important for mental health as it is for physical health. Junk food, fizzy drinks and foods high in sugar can give a short-term energy boost, but this may lead to a sharp drop in blood sugar later, leading to low mood and anxiety. Drinking alcohol can lead to unhealthy eating habits while you are drinking and into the following day. Try to plan ahead by cooking extra meals or in larger quantities to freeze so you can eat healthily even when you don’t feel like cooking.
THINK ABOUT YOUR DRINKING HABITS
Today is a good day to to consider if your drinking is affecting your mental health. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Am I drinking to change my mood?
- How is my mood the day after drinking?
- Is my drinking effecting my relationships with family/friends/colleagues?
If you feel you would like to reach out for support on this, see the Support section of our website for details of national organisations who can help.
KNOW THE GUIDELINES
Do you know if you are drinking within the HSE weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines? If not, you’re not alone – just 2% of Irish adults know this information. Remember, these are guidelines – not a target.
- 11 standard drinks (110g pure alcohol) spread out over the week for women, with at least two alcohol-free days
- 17 standard drinks (170g pure alcohol) spread out over the week for men, with at least two alcohol-free days
Common examples of one standard drink are a half pint of lager/stout/cider, a 100ml glass of wine or pub measure (35.5ml) of spirits. This means a woman’s weekly guidelines is less than one and a half bottles of wine, which is less than many people think. It takes one hour for the body to process one standard drink but this is only a guide, as there are many different factors that will affect this time.