Blog, Booze-Free

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Mental Health

Guest post by James Rogan (DRYSOCIETY)

This post is something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of months now. So when Lizzie messaged me on Instagram and asked about doing a post swap for our blogs it felt like a good fit! 

In this post, I’m going to share my own experience on my relationship with alcohol and mental health. Deciding to get help and how that has been for me. I’m also going to look at what the professionals say and the facts about alcohol and mental health. Plus discuss if living an alcohol-free lifestyle should be pushed more in an effort to improve mental health overall.

My experience on the relationship between alcohol and mental health 

Let me take you back to the heady days of being 18 and legally being able to drink. My first ever night out to the local nightclub should have been a pre-warning of what was to come for me. I don’t remember much from the night apart from being kicked out for throwing up and waking up the next day having lost my house keys, driving license and bank cards (Still somehow kept hold of the wallet). This sort of behaviour just became the norm to me for the 7 years or so to follow. From that early age I loved the way alcohol made me feel. It made me feel confident and was a release. The problem from the very start was that I didn’t have an off switch. Once I started that was it. 

Over the years this regular binge drinking started to take its toll on me. Both physically and mentally. Physically I’d put on a lot of weight, stopped regularly exercising and generally lost any motivation to look after myself. Mentally I was struggling too, mixing this with alcohol started to become a toxic cycle. What I didn’t realise at the time though was that I was dealing with anxiety. More specifically OCD. 

Anxiety and OCD

With hindsight, I can look back to being a teenager and having anxiety. More specifically having intrusive and obsessive thoughts. Although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I just thought I was a bad person and that there was something wrong with me to be thinking these awful things. I now know that what I was dealing with was OCD. Obsessive compulsive disorder. I, like a lot of others, always thought that OCD was when you had to wash your hands constantly or always check the doors are locked 20 times before leaving the house. So it was a revelation to me when I found out that having these intrusive thoughts and constantly replaying them in my head was a type of OCD. Unfortunately, I didn’t have all of that figured out really until a few years ago.

Without realising, I was drinking more and more as a way to escape my head and my thoughts. No awards for figuring out this didn’t help! If anything it made the problem a lot worse. I would spend days and weeks convinced I’d done something terrible when drunk and that I needed to figure out what. I got to a point where I was drinking more and more to try and escape problems that drinking was causing. Eventually it all came to a head when my family noticed my drinking was a problem and I was caught hiding drinking a number of times. 

Quitting drinking and CBT

I knew deep down I had to cut back on my drinking. The problem was I was scared that I’d have to deal with these thoughts and feelings I was experiencing without the safety blanket of alcohol. The road to giving up wasn’t straightforward and it took me a few attempts. But by having a few prolonged periods away from alcohol I saw a huge improvement in my mental health, which I have spoken about on my blog. Don’t get me wrong I still had a few rough patches and still do, but by not turning to alcohol and actually confronting my feelings the anxiety reduced a huge amount and I could see alcohol was just amplifying my problems. When I decided to quit drinking completely I knew I had to confront the problem head-on. So that I didn’t end up turning to alcohol again as a coping mechanism. 

I contacted my local NHS IAPT services to see what help I could get. They suggested a course of CBT therapy to help me address things. Going into it I was quite nervous to open up about how I was feeling.

In the past, I was always one to bottle up how I felt and it took me a long time to admit to myself I was struggling. Within a couple of sessions, I felt comfortable talking to the therapist. This in itself was a massive help, just being able to talk to someone and for them to tell me, this is ok, it’s normal. A big weight felt like it had been lifted off my shoulders.

The rest of the CBT looked at ways to deal with thoughts and how I react to them. For me CBT has been a massive help. I don’t think I’d have been able to stay away from alcohol long-term if I hadn’t dealt with some of the issues that were contributing to me drinking too much in the first place. By seeking help I’ve also realised that it’s not a big deal! I’d encourage anyone who is struggling with anything, even if you think it’s small to seek support.

Facts about alcohol and mental health

Most of what I have talked about is just anecdotal. I wanted to share a few facts backed by research that show the strong correlation between alcohol and mental health.

  • Regular heavy drinking is linked to symptoms of depression 
  • Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in your brain and affect your feelings, thoughts and behaviour
  • Alcohol problems and mental ill-health are closely linked. Research shows people who drink a lot of alcohol are more likely to develop mental health problems
  • If you experience anxiety, alcohol can give you a very short-lived feeling of relaxation – but this quickly disappears. If you rely on alcohol to cover your anxiety, you may soon find yourself drinking more and more to relax. Over time, this can lead to alcohol dependence.

Facts taken from – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/a/alcohol-and-mental-health

Conclusion – my thoughts on drinking and mental health

Before I decided to quit drinking. I didn’t realise the amount I was drinking was impacting my mental health. It wasn’t until I decided to stop that I saw that drinking was a massive contributor to the anxiety I was trying to escape. Since learning a bit more about the relationship between alcohol and mental health and seeing how much it can impact your life, I’ve wondered why it isn’t talked about more around the conversation of mental health. Sure there are plenty of articles and tips that suggest cutting down alcohol intake. But it seems as though just quitting altogether isn’t always seen as an option. I suppose this is because of the tight grip alcohol has on our society and that most people just can’t imagine a life without it. Alcohol is never going to make a hard time easier to deal with, it just adds to the problems. Hopefully the more people that talk about leading an alcohol-free life and sharing the benefits the more it IS seen as a possibility.

Thank you to Lizzie for suggesting swapping posts and thank you to you for reading! I’ve really enjoyed writing this post and it has made me realise how far I’ve come and how different life has become for me in just a few years. 

About the Author

Hi I’m James! I started DRYSOCIETY as a way to keep myself accountable and share the ups and downs of deciding to quit drinking as a young man in my 20’s. I also want to bring like minded people together who are either already sober or are thinking of giving up drinking. I try to share a few things that have helped me along the way so far and show that a life without booze is possible! Follow me on Instagram to keep updated!

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