Here's exactly how alcohol affects your mood and mental health
"The more you turn to alcohol as a way to cope, the less you will be able to cope without it."
As we ease into the festive season, there are some things we know for certain.
The first is that this Christmas will be like no other. The second is that the majority of people in Ireland will likely be drinking a lot more alcohol as the year comes to a close.
Research has already shown that more people have been drinking to cope this year, with 66% of men and 50% of women turning to alcohol to relax.
And while many people have become more conscious of their drinking habits during 2020, others remain unaware of the potentially damaging effects of alcohol - especially on our mental health.
"Mental health problems like anxiety and depression are exacerbated by how much you drink," says Drinkaware. "This is why there is a particular concern about binge drinking.
"Drinking alcohol to improve your mood or cope with stress is an unhealthy coping strategy - and it means that you are missing out on developing healthy coping skills. This Christmas, we’re urging everyone to commit to healthy coping strategies to help mind our own and our loved one’s mental health.”
So, what exactly is binge drinking?
According to Drinkaware, binge drinking is drinking the equivalent of three pints or cans of beer in one sitting. The charity encourages people to try and stay below their low-risk weekly guideline limit - a maximum of 11 standard drinks for women 5.5 cans) and 17 for men (8.5 cans).
Ideally, these drinks should be spread out over the week, with at least 2-3 alcohol-free days included. "Drinking more than this increases the risk of experiencing alcohol-related harm," they say.
But what exact kind of harm are we talking about?
Well, when it comes to mental health, a particularly depressive or anxious episode can easily be exacerbated by alcohol. And while many people tend to turn to alcohol to cope with how they're feeling, drinking can often only make things worse.
Most people know that alcohol is a depressant, but what exactly does this mean? In short, drinking affects our thoughts, feelings, and actions and, despite what we might think, it affects them predominantly negatively.
According to Drinkaware: "Alcohol has an effect on various chemicals in the brain including serotonin and dopamine. These changes can make you feel more relaxed while you’re drinking. But these effects are only temporary.
"Once the effect of the alcohol has worn off, feelings of anxiety the next day are common. And this can increase anxiety in the long-term. Mental health problems like depression can become harder to manage if alcohol is used as a way to deal with them.
"Attempts to cope with feelings and symptoms of depression may lead some people to drink more alcohol and more often (this is also known as self-medicating). The more you turn to alcohol as a way to cope, the less you will be able to cope without it. This can become a cycle and can lead to alcohol dependence."
So, if you find yourself frequently turning to alcohol to deal with negative feelings, what's the solution?
First, you should ask yourself three questions:
- Am I drinking to change my mood?
- How is my mood the day after drinking?
- Is my drinking affecting my relationships with family/friends/colleagues?
If you answered 'yes' to any of the above, you should reconsider you drinking habits and try to find new ways to address your moods and stresses - during the festive season, but all year round too.
If you have been affected by any of the details of this article, you can access Drinkaware's online support hub here. You can also contact Pieta House on 1800 247 247, or text HELLO to 50808 for the HSE's mental health wellbeing programme.