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The mental health effects of alcohol

Time to Talk Day is aiming to to get the nation talking about mental health this Thursday 4 February 2016. Mental health problems affect one in four people every year and they’re twice as likely to be heavy or problem drinkers. Here, Port of Call explains the mental health effects of alcohol.

Time to Talk Day takes place on Thursday 4 February 2016. Led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, it aims to get the nation talking about mental health in a bid to end the misconceptions surrounding it. Mental health problems affect one in four people every year.

Time to talk day 2016According to Drinkaware, Brits who experience anxiety or depression are twice as likely to be heavy or problem drinkers. For some, their anxiety or depression came first and alcohol was their solution. For others, drinking was the pre-cursor for their anxieties.

Alcoholism can share similar hallmarks to depression. If you drink heavily and regularly it’s likely that you’ll develop some symptoms of depression. Habitual drinking lowers your brain’s levels of serotonin; the chemical that helps regulate your moods.

Alcohol’s effects on depression

Alcohol is a depressant. That means it can disrupt our thoughts, feelings, actions and sometimes our long-term mental health. This can be partly attributed to ‘neurotransmitters’; the chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve (or neuron) in the brain to another.

The relaxed feeling after that first drink is due to the chemical changes that alcohol triggers in our brains. A drink can boost our confidence and make us feel less anxious because it’s depressing the inhibition part of the brain. High levels of alcohol can bypass those pleasurable effects and instead cause a negative emotional response like anger, aggression, anxiety or depression.

Using alcohol to improve your mood, or mask depression, may create a vicious cycle. Warning signs that alcohol is affecting your mood can include disturbed sleep, feeling constantly lethargic and tired, low moods and anxiety in otherwise normally comfortable situations.

Alcohol treatment and support

Treatment options for alcohol misuse depend on whether a drinker’s habits are hazardous, harmful or dependent, and whether they’re trying to drink less or give up altogether. Abstinence is usually recommended for people with a moderate to severe dependency. But whatever the level of alcohol dependency, time away from alcohol is recommended to allow the body to recover from its effects.

Detox at a hospital, clinic or alcohol rehab may be necessary in severe cases of dependency. Withdrawal symptoms are likely to also be severe and therefore require specialist treatment. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is often an extremely helpful solution for people with alcohol dependency problems. They advocate a 12-step treatment programme and that total abstinence is the only solution.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy to identify more realistic and helpful thoughts that might be associated with the alcohol dependency. Extended brief intervention (EBI) is a one-to-one session with a healthcare professional. A motivational interviewing technique to explore why they drink the way they do and identify positive reasons for changing.

Family therapy also provides family members with the opportunity to learn more about the nature of alcohol dependence and how to support a family member trying to abstain from alcohol. AlAnon is an organisation affiliated to AA that provides relatives and friends with help and support.

Do you know someone who needs help with their drinking? Are you worried about the amount that you drink? We can answer any of your questions, or find the rehab for you. Contact Port of Call today for a free and confidential assessment on 08000029010. You can also email us on help@portofcall.com or text ‘PORT’ to 82228 and we’ll call you back. 

About the author: Martin Preston

Martin is our Founder and Chief Executive. Martin is himself in long term recovery and started Port of Call to help families navigate treatment options. In 2020 Martin will open Delamere Health Ltd, the UK’s first purpose built addiction treatment clinic.

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