Drinking alcohol impacts mental equilibrium- Part 1: Relationship between alcohol and mental health

Alcohol consumption has slowly become an acceptable norm in the society. Whether it is a celebration, an escape to relieve tension, or just grabbing a drink on a Friday evening, no event is complete without a glass of alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 16.3 million adults in the United States suffered from alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2014 which included 10.6 million men and 5.7 million women.

Alcohol is often consumed by individuals for its short-term effects such as feeling high, inducing a sense of relief, or a perception that it improves one’s mood. But, this could gradually turn a person into a regular drinker, because he or she becomes dependent on alcohol.

Alcohol impacts an individual’s physical as well as mental health. It harms the liver, pancreas, heart, and also affects certain chemicals in the brain resulting in loss of inhibitions, confusion, abnormal thinking, poor decision-making, and could lead to death. According to the NIAAA, approximately 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes in the U.S. every year.

As a part of our series “Drinking alcohol impacts mental equilibrium,” let’s discuss how alcohol impacts an individual’s overall mental health and everyday life.

Alcohol can lead to severe mental illness

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that impacts an individual’s normal brain functioning. It alters one’s ability to think, feel, and act by affecting the “neurotransmitters” –– the chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerves in the brain. This, in turn, results in many common mental illnesses such as mood and anxiety disorders.

Alcohol consumption can strengthen an individual’s underlying feelings such as by evoking memories related to trauma or trigger a suppressed feeling associated with some painful event. These can make an individual experience overwhelming anxiety and depression.

An occasional drinker might face memory impairment after a few drinks, but the condition worsens with an increase in alcohol consumption. Drinking heavily or for a long period of time can lead to a diminished brain size, intellectual impairment, and numerous brain disorders. As per the NIAAA, it can also trigger psychosocial stressors such as legal, financial, or interpersonal problems that may indirectly cause an upsurge in the ongoing alcohol–related symptoms, such as sadness, despair, and anxiety. A number of studies also suggest that an individual who indulges in chronic heavy drinking is at a higher risk of disrupting the stress response system, inflammatory response, gut microbiome and may build up oxidative stress. All these and similar risk factors are known to cause several physical and mental health issues.

Heavy drinking is also known to damage the brain. Researchers have observed a lower level of white matter and smaller hippocampal volume in those with a history of alcohol abuse, indicating neural loss or dysfunction. Promoting a heightened stress response via cortisol pathway deregulation and over-activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, it can disrupt the dopaminergic and serotonergic systems. Though these are problematic on their own, these can increase the risk of dementia, Alzheimer, decreased cognitive function, and mood disorders.

Cognitive impairments such as poor thinking ability or faulty decision-making are other effects of alcohol. Acting inappropriately under influence can make a person guilty when he or she becomes sober which could again cause anxiety and depression.

Though drinking on an empty stomach might not lead to any severe mental health problems, but it can make one feel restless, anxious and may even cause blackouts, leading to a higher risk of accidents.

Recovery from alcoholism

Alcohol and mental health are interrelated. While alcoholism can lead to mental health issues, the reverse is also true. There are also situations when the two are not related but just happen to occur at the same time in an individual. This, in turn, can worsen the individual’s health and negatively impact various spheres of his life such as work and relationships.

Seeking help from a mental health expert can assist one in recovering from the condition. If you or someone you know is addicted to alcohol, the Florida Alcohol Addiction Helpline can help. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-220-5381 or chat online with one of our experts for complete information on the best and comprehensive alcohol treatment centers in Florida.