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Alcohol and Mental Health

Alcohol has become a ubiquitous part of life, especially in Western society. The UK has a particularly intertwined history with alcohol, and very few social occasions are considered complete without the presence of alcohol. Drinking is intricately interwoven into our culture in such a way that many people can’t imagine going out for a meal or meeting up with friends without a glass of wine or pint of beer being involved.


In fact, alcohol has the uncanny ability to be present no matter what the situation. Feeling upbeat on a sunny day? Have a pint in a beer garden. Feeling sad? Drown your sorrows with a bottle. Got something to celebrate? Pop the champagne and enjoy being the life and soul of the party. Indeed, the entrenched nature of drinking can mean that it becomes part of your identity, which can make it very difficult to stop.


The relationship between alcohol and mental health is complex. Research shows that people who drink are more likely to develop mental health problems, and those with mental health challenges are more likely to drink, mostly to deal with difficult feelings or symptoms.


While the majority of people can enjoy a drink without issue, it remains the case that alcohol has been described as ‘the UK’s favourite coping mechanism’[1], as many of us use drink to try and distract from or manage feelings of stress, anxiety or depression. This is known as ‘self-medicating’, and while it can seem like the alcohol is helping us feel more relaxed and less worried, this is only a temporary state. Once the initial sensation wears off, you can be left feeling worse than before, both in terms of the unpleasant physical after-effects, as well as feeling low, irritable or anxious.


For others, excessive alcohol consumption can become a mental health issue in its own right. Dependence on alcohol can have far-reaching consequences on physical and mental health, relationships, and ability to function in everyday life.


Long-term alcohol consumption can have lasting and severe effects on our health, including increased risk of heart conditions, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease and cancer. It can also negatively impact our sleep, weight and ability to exercise, as well as wider issues such as finances, social relationships and employment.


Because of the social acceptance, (and some would say expectation) of drinking, it can feel overwhelming to think about cutting back or stopping. It’s so commonplace, and most people can drink without issue, that it can seem virtually impossible to be the one to say you’re not going to do it anymore. What if your friends don’t want you to come out with anymore? What if they view it as a judgment on their behaviour? How will you manage challenging events without the confidence boosting or numbing effects of a drink?


This #AlcoholAwarenessWeek is a good time to reflect on how you feel about your drinking habits. If there's something you want to change, there are things you can try to minimise your drinking, including having drink-free days, finding different ways to socialise with friends that don’t involve alcohol, swapping drinks for low or no-alcohol versions, or setting yourself strict budgets to ensure you limit how much alcohol you purchase.


If the above tips aren’t enough and you are worried about your drinking, or that of a loved one, getting support is vital. You can speak to your GP as a first port of call, and they will be able to direct you to specialist services. There are also groups who can provide support and advice:


Alcoholics Anonymous run free self-help peer groups to help manage drinking

Al-Anon provide support to family and friends of problem drinkers

Drinkline (0300 123 1100) is a free helpline for anyone worried about drinking

We Are With You help manage the effects of alcohol misuse

SMART Recovery offer proven tools and techniques to support recovery

Club Soda can help you be more mindful about drinking and has tips on socialising sober


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