Alcohol has been a part of our lives and societies since forever. Yet its impact on our mental health remained unknown for the simple reason: its power to change our mood and hide the symptoms. Just as mental health problems occur from excessive alcohol consumption, mental health problems also are an undeniable reason why people drink.
There is some evidence that has associated light to moderate alcohol consumption with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and improved performances on cognitive tests. However, there is much more scientific evidence on the negative impact of alcohol on our physical and mental health.
How does alcohol affect our mood?
Regular consumption of alcohol changes the chemistry of our brain by decreasing the levels of serotonin – a key chemical in depression. As a result of this depletion, a cyclical process begins where one drinks to relieve depression, which causes serotonin levels in the brain to be depleted, leading to one feeling even more depressed, and thus necessitating even more alcohol consumption to medicate this depression.
Alcohol can reveal and intensify our underlying feelings, evoke past memories, trauma or repressed feelings which can be so powerful that they create anxiety and depression. Alcohol can temporarily alleviate these kind of feelings and help people deal with symptoms of mental issues which is called ‘self-medication’.People drink to numb their feeling and emotions or cope with severe mental illnesses, but end up making the existing mental health problems worse.
Alcohol and Psychiatric Conditions
There are many alcohol related psychiatric disorders, including depression and epilepsy, as well as directly alcohol-attributable disorders such as alcohol psychoses and dependence. On their own these account for an enormous part of illnesses in Europe, equivalent to 4% of the entire burden of Europe’s death and disease. This also means that the alcohol attributable part of them is the single most important aspect of alcohol-attributable morbidity. A conservative estimation of depression counts more than 200,000 major depressive episodes across Europe each year. Given that most psychiatric conditions are damaging to health rather than fatal, it is unsurprising that they lead to ‘only’ 17,000 deaths, a much smaller proportion of the total burden than for morbidity.
It is clear that alcohol-related harm covers a large number of areas, from family problems to absenteeism at work to loss of life, and it is not possible to understand the significance of these harms by looking at one area alone. A sizable burden is also placed on people other than the drinker, with the harm to others stretching into several domains of human life including crime, health and ‘intangible costs’. Alcohol is also heavily implicated in social inequalities, both within and between countries. Finally, research evidence clearly shows that these levels of harm are affected by changes in the population level of consumption which is a useful point of departure for considering effective policies to reduce the burden of alcohol.
Recommendations from those taking part in Dry January Challenge
The morning after drinking alcohol can be besides having a hangover, spiced up with a blackout – not knowing what have you done last night. Alcohol affects many of your functions and decision-making is one of them, which can bear consequences that will make you regret every sip of last night’s drink(s). From talking to random people, dancing on a table to having unprotected sex with a stranger or driving when you are not competent to. Consequences? Several friendship requests on Facebook, a moral hangover, shame or worse – sexually transmitted diseases, car accidents, hurting yourself and others. Is it worth it?
Anja Sribar – EPSA Science Coordinator
Have you ever woken-up the morning after a night out feeling miserable and thought “I shouldn’t have taken that last drink”? Have you said that to yourself multiple times in the past holiday period? Then taking a 30-days break might be a good idea. The downside of drinking in excess is not limited to your hangover and by joining me and EPSA in the Dry January challenge you are allowing your brain to recover from the alcohol-induced effects and set back your brain chemistry to normal levels. Curious? Give it a try and you’ll be able to feel the benefits on your general mood and focus and, even more important, to actually understand how much alcohol consumption can affect your mental health.
Leonor Pereira – EPSA Secretary General
The impact of alcohol on mental health has been investigated and proven. Every person that has drank alcohol in their life has also been able to experience this effect. In addition to developing alcohol addiction, alcohol can impact us on other levels, such as the decrease in the productivity during and after the consumption. The abuse of alcohol can have a derogatory effect on a person’s life and mental health.
Eva Schannon Schiffrer –EPSA Vice President of Education