Prolonged heavy drinking can have a wide range of negative effects. Intoxication can lead to an increased risk of being involved in an accident and risky or inappropriate behaviour, as well as the potential for alcohol poisoning.

More than a tenth of all visits to the A&E are alcohol-related and more than 1.2 million violent incidents are linked to alcohol misuse each year in England alone.1

Alcohol abuse can also have a serious long-term impact on your physical health. It is linked to a wide range of health problems including high blood pressure, stroke and liver disease, as well as a number of cancers including mouth, liver, breast and bowel cancer.

Alongside the physical impact and the risk of developing an alcohol addiction, alcohol misuse can have a significant impact on mood and mental health.

 

What are the mental effects of alcohol?

Drinking can affect your mood, behaviour and brain functioning while long-term alcohol abuse can depress the central nervous system and cause or contribute to mental illnesses of various kinds.

These issues can be successfully treated in an alcohol rehab but it’s always best to moderate your drinking and avoid getting to that point in the first place.

Alcohol is sometimes mistakenly believed to be a stimulant by some as it can have a short-term effect of raising confidence and making people more social. It can also produce some effects more commonly associated with stimulants, such as increased heart rate and levels of alertness and aggression.

Despite the impression of alcohol as a ‘pick me up’ though, it actually acts as a depressant on the central nervous system, slowing down neural activity and brain function.

On a short-term basis, this depression of the nervous system can lead to mental and physical impairments such as slurred speech, a lack of coordination and slowed reactions.

Beyond the short-term effects of intoxication, long-term alcohol misuse can also have a lasting impact on your mental health, leading to symptoms of depression, anxiety and other issues.

 

Alcohol and anxiety

Many people say they ‘drink to relax’ and when you drink alcohol it can have a relaxing effect as the system is depressed. Stress and anxiety are perfectly natural responses to threats and stressful situations, but they can spiral out of control.

Self-medicating with alcohol is never a good idea though and can lead to a number of other issues. Using alcohol’s sedating effects to mask existing anxiety – whether this is triggered by social situations or anything else – can be counter-productive in the long term.

One possible side effect is that you might find it more and more difficult to relax without using alcohol. This can lead to increased alcohol consumption and a psychological or physical dependency that can increase overall anxiety and may require addiction treatments.

In other cases, intoxication itself can lead to increased anxiety as it can affect the way we perceive sensory cues around us. Hangovers can also lead to greater anxiety levels for some.

 

Alcohol and depression

Alcohol and depression have a complex relationship. There is no doubting that people who misuse alcohol are more likely to suffer from depression, and indeed other mental illnesses, but untangling the impact that each element had on the other can be difficult.

The NHS says [1] that dual diagnosis is when mental illness and problematic drug and/or alcohol use coexist and that the following relationships may apply:

  • A primary psychiatric illness may precipitate or lead to substance misuse. Patients may feel anxious, lonely, bored, have difficulty sleeping or may want to ‘block out’ symptoms or medication side-effects.
  • Substance misuse may worsen or alter the path of a psychiatric illness.
  • Intoxication and/or substance dependence may lead to psychological symptoms.
  • Substance misuse and/or withdrawal may lead to psychiatric symptoms or illness. It may act as a trigger in those who are predisposed. [2]

Where mental health and addiction issues exist at the same time, it is generally advisable to seek dual diagnosis treatment to address them both simultaneously.

Otherwise, an untreated mental health issue could lead to relapse or an untreated addiction could trigger further psychiatric symptoms.

Alcohol detox, while it is a vital part of the recovery process, can also cause or increase mental health issues, which is one reason to undergo this step in supervised treatment facilities such as rehab and following medical advice.

 

Alcohol and suicide

While there can be a complex relationship between alcohol and mental health issues, it certainly appears to be the case that alcohol misuse can make you feel depressed and anxious. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says [3] that the way alcohol affects the brain chemistry can increase the risks of depression.

Hangovers can also lead to a cycle of illness, anxiety and guilt and heavy drinking can cause or exacerbate problems with relationships, work and every other aspect of your life. Alcohol abuse – whether acute or chronic – can also lower inhibitions, leading to actions you might not otherwise have taken.

All this can lead to an increased risk of self-harm and even suicide and charity Drink Aware says there is a strong association between drinking heavily and suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and death from suicide.

 

Alcohol support services

If you’re worried about any aspect of your alcohol consumption, it is always best to seek help as soon as possible. Your GP can offer advice and NHS alcohol support services can be valuable for many people and situations. If you have become alcohol dependent, more extensive rehabilitation treatment may be required.

Inpatient rehab offers a tailored and comprehensive treatment plan, incorporating elements such as detox, therapies and aftercare to help you get sober, explore the root causes of your drinking and develop the knowledge and tools you need for relapse prevention moving forward.

If you have issues with substance abuse or addiction and want to make a long-term recovery, contact us today to find out how we can help.

 

Sources

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/risks/ 

https://patient.info/doctor/dual-diagnosis-drug-abuse-with-other-psychiatric-conditions 

https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/alcohol-and-depression?searchTerms=depression 

https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-and-mental-health