Alcohol is quite an embedded part of our culture, here in the UK. For some of us, it can be a social thing to do; we might meet up with friends in bars or pubs, go on nights out and party until dawn, or have frequent dinner parties with no shortage of wine. Others might have a glass of wine with their tea each night, a can or two whilst watching the football, or a nice cool beverage whenever the sun shows itself.
Whether alcohol is something we’ve grown up with, something we’ve discovered later on in life, something we have every day, something we only touch occasionally, or something we watch others drink but don’t have personally, it’s worth knowing how it can affect our mood.
People Process Alcohol Differently
Alcohol affects each of us differently. It can depend on all sorts of things, including our build, our personality, and how well our bodies metabolise it. Most of us who’ve had a night out will recognise the idea that people behave differently when past their sober limit. Some become weepy, others start getting aggressive, some get touchy-feely, spout their life story, become impulsive, or develop promiscuous tendencies.
Alcohol not only has different effects for different people but can also affect the same person in different ways depending on the day. It can depend on what we’ve had to eat and drink that day, any medication we’re on, where our weight is currently sitting, where we are in our monthly cycle (for those of us who have monthly cycles), and any situations we’re currently experiencing which are affecting our mental health. Our alcohol tolerance can be different at different times.
There might be times when alcohol doesn’t affect us at all for a while and then suddenly hits us. Sometimes, we might feel really low and tearful, at other times we could find that it gives us an energy boost. There are times when we will have the hangover from hell the day after a wild night out, and times when we’ll wake up the next morning with no apparent hangover at all.
It Can Numb Our Feelings
One of the effects of alcohol is that it can numb our feelings. As a depressant, it can dampen down all of our feelings – the good and the not-so-good.
Some of us might quite like this effect. If we’re having a rough time of it, then it can feel like a break or an escape from the difficult things that we’re currently living with. We might use alcohol to numb our feelings on a regular basis – it can become addictive.
It’s very socially acceptable to cure a bad day using a stiff drink – so much so that we often see it on movies and TV shows. Providing we’re of legal age, there’s nothing wrong with having a drink after the odd bad day if that’s how we choose to cope with them. It’s just worth being aware of how often we’re using alcohol to cope, how else the alcohol affects us, beyond the numbing effect, and how we’re coping with our difficult feelings more generally. We might need to look at how we’re managing difficult events and emotions, and think about whether we need to reach out for some support with them.
Heavy Drinking And Depression
Drinking heavily and regularly can increase our risk of developing symptoms of depression. In fact, in the UK those of us living with anxiety or depression are twice as likely to be heavy or problem drinkers. Some of us might have felt anxious and depressed and then reached for alcohol to help us cope. Others of us might find that our problem drinking has caused us to feel anxious or depressed.
Regular Drinking Lowers Our Levels Of Serotonin
Regularly drinking alcohol can alter our brain chemistry. It can decrease the levels of serotonin in our brain, which is a key chemical when it comes to our mood. This can lead to a cyclical process – we drink to relieve feelings of depression, this drinking depletes the levels of serotonin in our brain which leads to us feeling even more depressed, so we drink more to relieve these feelings, and the cycle continues.
Alcohol And Anxiety
Alcohol can worsen symptoms of anxiety – which is often counterintuitive. Many of us feel as though drinking alcohol helps us to feel less anxious and perhaps allows us to take part in social events that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to access, known as ‘Dutch courage’.
Alcohol can reduce our inhibitions which helps us to feel less anxious at the time. However, in the long run, it can contribute to our feelings of anxiety because it interferes with the neurotransmitters our brain needs for good mental health. Additionally, at the time of drinking, alcohol can narrow our perception. This means that if we’re prone to anxiety and notice something that we perceive as a threat, we’re likely to hone in on that and miss or ignore any neutral information surrounding it.
As our bodies process the alcohol we’ve drunk and the sedative, relaxing effects wear off, we might begin to feel alcohol withdrawal symptoms, one of which might be anxiety.
It can become a vicious circle. We drink, it helps us to feel calmer and more relaxed, as the alcohol begins to wear off, we feel anxious as a symptom of our body processing the alcohol, we want to drink again to relieve the anxiety we’re feeling.
Over time, if we’re a regular drinker, our tolerance to alcohol is likely to grow. This means that if we begin to rely on alcohol to help us cope with anxiety, then we will begin to need to drink more and more to get the short-term ‘relaxed’ feelings.
When alcohol gets thrown into the mix, it can affect our relationships. This isn’t limited to our romantic relationships. It can include our friendships and work relationships, too.
Because alcohol can lower our inhibitions, we could start saying things that we later reject. Alcohol can also make us more aggressive. The combination of these things can lead to more arguments occurring, and even violence.
If we’re drinking to excess on a regular basis then we might begin to feel the effects in all areas of our lives, including friendships and work. For example, we could find that we’re increasingly unreliable. The effects of alcohol withdrawal and hangovers could affect our performance at work and our ability to fully engage with our relationships.
Alcohol Is A Depressant
Alcohol is a depressant. What this means, is that it’s a chemical that can affect our brain. In fact – it’s been shown to affect over 100 unique receptors in the brain. This includes at least five different neuroreceptors for chemicals including serotonin and dopamine – two chemicals involved in helping us to regulate our mood. We might like some of the effects that alcohol gives us, such as temporary relief from feelings of anxiety or depression, however, in the longer term, it’s worth being aware that alcohol can worsen existing mental illness.
Alcohol And Antidepressants
Most antidepressants come with a warning around alcohol. Some might suggest we don’t drink, whereas others might urge us to be careful about the amount that we drink.
If we’re someone who takes antidepressants, we might find that it alters our tolerance to alcohol which could mean that we need to drink more or less than we’re used to before we feel the effects of the alcohol.
Some of the side effects that we might have when taking anti-depressants, such as drowsiness, dizziness, and coordination problems, can be worsened by drinking.
Alcohol could stop our antidepressants from working as it may affect the same neuroreceptors. Particularly when we first start to take antidepressants, it might be an idea to avoid alcohol for a period of time until we know how our medication affects us.
If we’re in any way concerned about whether or not we can drink whilst taking our medication, or how our medication and alcohol might interact, it’s a good plan to speak to our doctor about it to get some personalised advice.
Does All Of This Mean We Should Avoid Alcohol Altogether?
Put simply – it’s up to us individually to make that choice. Some of us might choose to avoid alcohol altogether, some might want to proceed with caution and monitor their alcohol intake, and others might choose to continue to drink on a daily basis. As long as we’re of legal age, not in a restricted zone, and don’t drink and drive, alcohol isn’t illegal. We can legally buy it and drink as much as we like. It’s just worth taking note of how it could affect us, and how it does affect us individually. Having this awareness means that we can make an informed choice about how much alcohol we’re comfortable drinking.
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