There are lots of reasons we drink. Alcoholic beverages alter our mood and make us feel more relaxed, confident, and even less worried or anxious. But while alcohol can have a short-term positive impact research shows that people who drink alcohol excessively are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems.
Using alcohol to deal with life’s difficulties is considered a form of self-medication. But it actually has the opposite intended effect. Drinking too much -- too often -- leads to depression, relationship difficulties, risky behavior, irregular sleeping habits, and physical injury, all of which contribute to poor mental health. The altered mental state is only a temporary fix. When withdrawal symptoms set in, they cause cumulative distress to your brain, body, activities, and relationships.
People who become dependent on alcohol develop a high tolerance for it. This means they have triggered a cycle – the more they drink, the more they crave. For alcohol-dependent people to feel good – or to avoid feeling bad – they have reached a point where they must continue to drink.
When you rely on alcohol to numb your anxiety, it reduces the brain’s ability to work through or tolerate difficult feelings naturally. As a result, people drink more alcohol to deal with their continuing anxiety. According to recent research, many people who use alcohol to minimize anxiety and depression drink nearly every day and believe it would be hard to give up.
Most people who struggle with substance abuse and alcoholism deny it. They underestimate their ability to control their craving or to quit all together. They also trivialize the amount of alcohol they drink because they can still carry out their daily responsibilities. So, how do you know if you or a loved one has a problem? Pay attention to your alcohol cravings and how much you’re consuming. Growing relationship conflicts, a decrease in performance in academics or work, or an increase in harmful behavior means it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities or get some help.
The Benefits of Abstinence
Influencers, party hosts, bars and restaurants are all expanding their alcoholic beverage lists with trendy and tasty non-alcoholic drink options called mocktails. These healthy, refreshing options are replacing some traditional cocktails -- and for those who are choosing them, here’s how it’s benefitting your body.
- Better looking skin: Abstinence from alcohol restores elasticity.
- Improved sleep: Alcohol affects the sleep-wake cycle and makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.
- Healthier weight: Alcohol derails metabolism and is filled with sugars and empty calories.
- Better mental health: Abstaining from alcohol can allow more focused mental health treatment.
- Improved immunity: Alcohol impedes white blood cell production, making it harder fight viruses and bacteria.
- Enhanced nutrition: Alcohol interferes with digestion, storage, utilization, and excretion of nutrients, and many heavy drinkers are malnourished.
- Lower risk of cancer: Alcohol is a known carcinogen and increases risk of multiple types of cancer.
More than 86% of Americans enjoy alcohol now and then. For many, it is never a problem, for others, drinking can cause their life to spiral, resulting in both physical and mental health issues. Rethinking drinking is a good idea for all of us.
If you’re concerned about your drinking habits or those of a loved one, call 1-800-662-HELP.