Alcohol And Mental Health

Alcohol and Mental Health

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

The heavy use of alcohol and mental health are closely intertwined, with one often impacting the other. People with alcoholism often struggle with mental health disorders and the use of alcohol can exacerbate these conditions.

Conversely, mental health issues can also contribute to the development of alcoholism, as individuals may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism or self-medication for their symptoms. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize and understand the interconnected nature of these conditions.

How Alcoholism Affects Our Mind And Brain

The negative effects of alcohol on mental health and the brain can be both short-term and long-term 1 Mäkelä, P., Raitasalo, K., & Wahlbeck, K. (2015). Mental health and alcohol use: a cross-sectional study of the Finnish general population. European journal of public health, 25(2), 225–231. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cku133 . Short-term effects include impaired cognitive function, changes in mood, behavior, and perception, as well as impaired judgment and poor coordination.

Long-term effects include structural and functional changes in the brain, as heavy alcohol use damages the brain’s gray and white matter.

These alterations result in memory problems, difficulty learning, decreased cognitive function, and problems with decision-making and impulse control. Alcoholism can also increase the risk of developing mental health disorders 2 Palzes, V. A., Parthasarathy, S., Chi, F. W., Kline-Simon, A. H., Lu, Y., Weisner, C., Ross, T. B., Elson, J., & Sterling, S. A. (2020). Associations Between Psychiatric Disorders and Alcohol Consumption Levels in an Adult Primary Care Population. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 44(12), 2536–2544. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.14477 and worsen their symptoms.

Read More About Alcoholism Here

When Alcohol Is Used As A Coping Mechanism

Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism because it can produce feelings of relaxation and generate euphoria in mind, which can temporarily alleviate stress and anxiety.

Many people turn to alcohol when they are dealing with debilitating mental health conditions or difficult emotions and stressful situations, as they may feel that alcohol provides a temporary escape or distraction from their problems 3 Holahan, C. J., Moos, R. H., Holahan, C. K., Cronkite, R. C., & Randall, P. K. (2001). Drinking to cope, emotional distress and alcohol use and abuse: a ten-year model. Journal of studies on alcohol, 62(2), 190–198. https://doi.org/10.15288/jsa.2001.62.190 .

Additionally, social and cultural factors can contribute to the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. Drinking is often seen as a socially acceptable way to ‘loosen up’ and have fun, because of which alcohol is frequently served at social events and gatherings.

This can create social pressure to drink, reinforcing the belief that alcohol is an effective way to relax and cope with negative emotions. In fact, the very practice of social drinking normalizes the perception that drinking is a necessary part of socializing, bonding, and enjoyment.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Mental Health?

The mental effects of alcohol use and misuse are far-reaching, whether in a social or personal setting. Heavy alcoholism use or borderline alcoholism increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).

As individuals consume alcohol more frequently, they develop a tolerance to its effects, leading to physical and psychological dependence. In the process, this pattern of alcohol use creates a cycle of addiction that is difficult to break.

While alcohol provides temporary relief from stress and anxiety, excessive alcohol use can enhance overall stress levels and poor psychological resilience to additional stressors 4 Aldridge-Gerry, A. A., Roesch, S. C., Villodas, F., McCabe, C., Leung, Q. K., & Da Costa, M. (2011). Daily stress and alcohol consumption: modeling between-person and within-person ethnic variation in coping behavior. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 72(1), 125–134. https://doi.org/10.15288/jsad.2011.72.125 . It can trigger new mental health conditions or worsen the symptoms of existing disorders.

Ultimately, alcohol dependence can make it harder to cope with stress and negative emotions without its use 5 Choi, K. W., Watt, M. H., MacFarlane, J. C., Sikkema, K. J., Skinner, D., Pieterse, D., & Kalichman, S. C. (2014). Drinking in the Context of Life Stressors: A Multidimensional Coping Strategy Among South African Women. Substance use & misuse, 49(1-2), 66–76. https://doi.org/10.3109/10826084.2013.819365 , perpetuating the cycle of addiction. It can reduce the activity of the central nervous system and create feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

Mental Health Risk Factors Of Alcoholism

Alcohol-induced psychiatric disorders

Chronic alcohol use can lead to cognitive impairment, memory and learning problems, and motor coordination. These can contribute to mental health issues 6 Castillo-Carniglia, A., Keyes, K. M., Hasin, D. S., & Cerdá, M. (2019). Psychiatric comorbidities in alcohol use disorder. The lancet. Psychiatry, 6(12), 1068–1080. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30222-6 , such as:

1. Mood and stress disorders

Alcohol use can worsen the symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, bipolar disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As alcohol is a depressant 7 McHugh, R. K., & Weiss, R. D. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder and Depressive Disorders. Alcohol research : current reviews, 40(1), arcr.v40.1.01. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.01 , it can increase feelings of sadness, apathy, and hopelessness.

Additionally, people with mood and stress disorders can develop maladaptive alcohol use as a way to self-medicate and cope with their symptoms. Such an unhealthy approach makes them more vulnerable to alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Read More About Mood Disorder Here

2. Anxiety

Many individuals with anxiety may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with their symptoms. However, this can quickly develop into a cycle of dependence, as the person begins to rely on alcohol as a primary coping mechanism.

Over time, the individual’s alcohol dependence can worsen their symptoms of anxiety, leading to a vicious cycle of increased alcohol use and worsening anxiety 8 Anker, J. J., & Kushner, M. G. (2019). Co-Occurring Alcohol Use Disorder and Anxiety: Bridging Psychiatric, Psychological, and Neurobiological Perspectives. Alcohol research : current reviews, 40(1), arcr.v40.1.03. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.03 . The affected person can also display tendencies of self-imposed isolation, social withdrawal, and performance anxiety.

Read More About Anxiety Here

3. Schizophrenia

Individuals with schizoaffective disorders 9 Archibald, L., Brunette, M. F., Wallin, D. J., & Green, A. I. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder and Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder. Alcohol research : current reviews, 40(1), arcr.v40.1.06. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.06 are more likely to use alcohol as a way to cope with their symptoms. This can lead to alcohol dependence and exacerbate their mental health condition.

Heavy alcohol use can also interfere with the effectiveness of schizoid medication and treatment outcomes, as it makes managing the symptoms of schizophrenia more challenging.

Read More About Schizophrenia Here

4. Alcohol-induced psychosis

Long-term alcohol abuse causes structural and functional changes in the brain, leading to cognitive impairments, memory deficits, and emotional dysregulation. This increases the risk of developing psychotic symptoms 10 Stankewicz, H. A., & Salen, P. (2019, November 4). Alcohol Related Psychosis. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459134/ (such as hallucinations or delusions) in individuals with or without schizophrenia.

Read More About Psychosis Here

5. Personality disorders

Certain personality disorders (such as borderline and antisocial personality disorders 11 Helle, A. C., Watts, A. L., Trull, T. J., & Sher, K. J. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder and Antisocial and Borderline Personality Disorders. Alcohol research : current reviews, 40(1), arcr.v40.1.05. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.05 ) may use alcohol as a coping mechanism to manage emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, and interpersonal difficulties. This can lead to a cycle of dependence on alcohol and, eventually, develop alcohol use disorder.

Conversely, individuals with heavy alcohol use (both during intoxication and withdrawal) have a higher likelihood of developing personality disorders. In fact, alcohol abuse induces and exacerbates the symptoms of such disorders, making them more difficult to manage or respond to treatment.

6. Self-harm and suicide

Alcoholism triggers risky behavior and increases the likelihood of fatal accidents such as falls, car crashes, etc. As heavy alcohol use can exacerbate mental health symptoms (related to mood disorders and anxiety), so it generate more negative feelings of hopelessness, guilt, shame, and despair, which in turn leads to increase the risk 12 Larkin, C., Griffin, E., Corcoran, P., McAuliffe, C., Perry, I. J., & Arensman, E. (2017). Alcohol Involvement in Suicide and Self-Harm. Crisis, 38(6), 413–422. https://doi.org/10.1027/0227-5910/a000488 of self-harm and suicidality.

Read More About Self Harm Here

Coping With Alcohol And Mental Health Problems

Coping with the physical and psychological effects of alcohol can be challenging, but seeking timely and adequate professional help is essential. Treatment options 13 Huebner, R. B., & Kantor, L. W. (2011). Advances in alcoholism treatment. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 33(4), 295–299. include therapy, medication, addiction rehabilitation, and support groups. Addressing both conditions simultaneously is crucial for achieving the best possible outcomes.

Developing healthy coping strategies and self-care mechanisms (such as building a support system, practicing stress management and relaxation techniques, avoiding drugs and alcohol, etc.) is also central to managing the symptoms of alcoholism and associated mental health conditions.

Takeaway

Regular and excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing a variety of serious mental and physical health problems. This poor mental health can further impact a patient’s socioeconomic status, interpersonal relationships, employment, and overall well-being.

Therefore, if you or someone you know feels that there is a problem with alcohol misuse and it is worsening underlying mental health conditions, it is crucial to seek professional help. By taking the necessary steps and getting the support and resources needed in overcoming the challenges associated with abusing alcohol and mental health issues—you or your loved one can achieve a healthier, happier life.

At A Glance

  1. Heavy use of alcohol and mental health are inversely related.
  2. Regular misuse of alcohol creates structural and functional changes in the brain, which is known to be a predisposed condition to the development of serious mental health disorders.
  3. Alcoholism can trigger new mental health conditions and worsen the symptoms of existing, comorbid conditions.
  4. People coping with mental health conditions may also turn to heavy alcohol use to manage their symptoms.
  5. Mood disorders, psychosis, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, as well as self-harm and suicidality are common alcohol-induced psychiatric disorders.
  6. Seeking professional help is essential for managing both the problematic use of alcohol and other mental health disorders.

References:

  • 1
    Mäkelä, P., Raitasalo, K., & Wahlbeck, K. (2015). Mental health and alcohol use: a cross-sectional study of the Finnish general population. European journal of public health, 25(2), 225–231. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cku133
  • 2
    Palzes, V. A., Parthasarathy, S., Chi, F. W., Kline-Simon, A. H., Lu, Y., Weisner, C., Ross, T. B., Elson, J., & Sterling, S. A. (2020). Associations Between Psychiatric Disorders and Alcohol Consumption Levels in an Adult Primary Care Population. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 44(12), 2536–2544. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.14477
  • 3
    Holahan, C. J., Moos, R. H., Holahan, C. K., Cronkite, R. C., & Randall, P. K. (2001). Drinking to cope, emotional distress and alcohol use and abuse: a ten-year model. Journal of studies on alcohol, 62(2), 190–198. https://doi.org/10.15288/jsa.2001.62.190
  • 4
    Aldridge-Gerry, A. A., Roesch, S. C., Villodas, F., McCabe, C., Leung, Q. K., & Da Costa, M. (2011). Daily stress and alcohol consumption: modeling between-person and within-person ethnic variation in coping behavior. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 72(1), 125–134. https://doi.org/10.15288/jsad.2011.72.125
  • 5
    Choi, K. W., Watt, M. H., MacFarlane, J. C., Sikkema, K. J., Skinner, D., Pieterse, D., & Kalichman, S. C. (2014). Drinking in the Context of Life Stressors: A Multidimensional Coping Strategy Among South African Women. Substance use & misuse, 49(1-2), 66–76. https://doi.org/10.3109/10826084.2013.819365
  • 6
    Castillo-Carniglia, A., Keyes, K. M., Hasin, D. S., & Cerdá, M. (2019). Psychiatric comorbidities in alcohol use disorder. The lancet. Psychiatry, 6(12), 1068–1080. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30222-6
  • 7
    McHugh, R. K., & Weiss, R. D. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder and Depressive Disorders. Alcohol research : current reviews, 40(1), arcr.v40.1.01. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.01
  • 8
    Anker, J. J., & Kushner, M. G. (2019). Co-Occurring Alcohol Use Disorder and Anxiety: Bridging Psychiatric, Psychological, and Neurobiological Perspectives. Alcohol research : current reviews, 40(1), arcr.v40.1.03. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.03
  • 9
    Archibald, L., Brunette, M. F., Wallin, D. J., & Green, A. I. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder and Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder. Alcohol research : current reviews, 40(1), arcr.v40.1.06. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.06
  • 10
    Stankewicz, H. A., & Salen, P. (2019, November 4). Alcohol Related Psychosis. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459134/
  • 11
    Helle, A. C., Watts, A. L., Trull, T. J., & Sher, K. J. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder and Antisocial and Borderline Personality Disorders. Alcohol research : current reviews, 40(1), arcr.v40.1.05. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.05
  • 12
    Larkin, C., Griffin, E., Corcoran, P., McAuliffe, C., Perry, I. J., & Arensman, E. (2017). Alcohol Involvement in Suicide and Self-Harm. Crisis, 38(6), 413–422. https://doi.org/10.1027/0227-5910/a000488
  • 13
    Huebner, R. B., & Kantor, L. W. (2011). Advances in alcoholism treatment. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 33(4), 295–299.
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