Five ways that alcohol can affect your mental health

Whether you’re going for a drink after a tough day or determined to ‘drown your sorrows’, we all know that alcohol is often turned to when feeling low. But unfortunately reaching for a drink won’t always have the effect you’re after…

While a glass of wine after a hard day might help you relax, in the long run, it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with. This is because regular, heavy drinking interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health.

While alcohol can have a very temporary positive impact on our mood, in the long term it can cause big problems for our mental health. It’s linked to a range of issues from depression and memory loss to suicide.

Here are 5 ways alcohol can negatively affect your mental health:

1. Alcohol alters your brain chemistry 

Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health. This is partly down to ‘neurotransmitters’, chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve (or neuron) in the brain to another.

2. Drinking more triggers negative emotions

Initially, drinking alcohol might make you feel more relaxed from a tough or stressful situation, but as you drink more, more of the brain starts to be affected. It doesn’t matter what mood you’re in to start with when high levels of alcohol are involved, often negative emotional responses will take over. Your ability to reason, be logical, and not overreact go out of the window.

3. Alcohol can be linked to aggression

It is common to become angry or aggressive if you are drinking to alleviate a low mood. If you imagine the pent-up tension and emotions inside from anxiety or stress, they often surface in the worst way when drinking. If you do act aggressively when drunk, then also waking up the next morning to face the consequences of your actions can further add to low mood and spiralling mental health.

4. Alcohol can actually increase anxiety and stress rather than reduce it.

When we drink, we narrow our perception of a situation and don’t always respond to all the cues around us. If we're prone to anxiety and notice something that could be interpreted as threatening in the environment, we'll hone in on that and miss the other less threatening or neutral information.  For example, we might focus on our partner talking to someone we’re jealous of, rather than notice all the other people they’ve been chatting to that evening.

5. Alcohol messes with your sleep pattern

Whilst you may zonk out quicker after drinking, the quality of sleep when you’re drunk is really poor. You can wake up feeling physically and mentally exhausted, as well as unwell. The day after drinking, our bodies are trying to readjust, but blood sugars go up and down, and you often crave unhealthy foods and can feel a heightened sense of anxiety. None of this is good news for managing your mental health and wellbeing, as sleep is so so vital to reduce stress and regulate emotions!

But the good news is that there are plenty of ways to manage this, and use much more positive coping techniques rather than drinking.

 

Here are 5 self-care top tips if you’ve had a stressful day or are feeling really low:

1. Go for a walk

Fresh air is really good to help clear your head and help you de-stress. Maybe use that time to listen to a podcast,or just appreciate the outdoors. If you’ve been stressing over a work assignment on the computer, then this is a great chance to get a break your screen and re-group.

2. Get some Headspace

Practises like deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness are really good for calming your mind, and decreasing anxiety. But we all know it can feel a bit scary to know how to start! Try downloading Headspace (free on Apple & Android) and start with a simple 10 minute guided meditation… just plug your headphones in a quiet private place, and see how you go with it.

3. Watch a feel good movie

The cheesier the better. Curling up in your comfies with a movie can be great escapism after a challenging day or if you’re not feeling like going out. Whether it’s a good laugh, or leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, it’s all an improvement on how you were feeling!

4. Sweat  or stretch it out

Use exercise or yoga to tackle stress, rather than alcohol. Try joining the UWE Move programme as they have tonnes of different exercise classes, and you’ll soon feel the endorphins (feel good chemicals) pumping around your brain! An exercise class is also a great way to be completely distracted from what was worrying you, which creates more head space for you! Or if you want something a bit more private, then head to YouTube and try a free exercise video in the comfort of your own home – like Blogilates for 10 minutes pilates style sessions. 

5. Talk to somebody

We have loads of amazing services at UWE to help you. Have you heard of Kooth? They are professional counsellors available online, until 10pm at night. They can offer really great advice, or just listen to how you’re feeling. Go to student.kooth.com to chat to them – it’s free, safe, and anonymous!

Go to this webpage if you need more information on Kooth or our other wellbeing services at UWE: https://www1.uwe.ac.uk/students/healthandwellbeing/wellbeingservice/talktosomeoneonline.aspx

Information & facts cross-referenced from the Drinkaware website