Like millions of others across the globe, you likely started drinking alcohol socially. You’ve toasted special events, attended happy hours with friends and co-workers, and cracked a beer or two at a barbeque. In the scheme of things, drinking alcohol socially isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (Of course, it goes without saying that you need a designated driver, though.)
Perhaps you think you have your drinking under control. Sure, you may imbibe a little too much once in a while, but it’s not negatively impacting your body or mind.
Or is it?
You may be aware of how drinking alcohol in excess can be harmful to your body. But do you understand the connection between alcohol and mental health disorders? Maybe that anxiety and sadness are more than just feeling a bit overwhelmed and blue.
Your drinking could actually be contributing to depression, anxiety, and more. And as your mental health declines, you may find yourself attempting to cope with your mental illness symptoms by drinking more.
Before you know it, you could find yourself in a vicious cycle of drinking because you feel terrible inside and even worse. If this sounds like you or you feel like you’re on your way there, it’s crucial to seek alcohol treatment in San Diego or wherever you live as soon as possible. Why? Because you’re likely on the dangerous track to alcoholism (otherwise known as Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD) and severe mental health concerns.
How Alcohol Affects Your Brain
The connection between alcohol and mental health runs deeper than you may think. That’s because alcohol directly affects how your brain works. Within your brain lie billions of neurons that relay information through synapses. When these neurons “talk” to each other, it releases neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, that affect your thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Because alcohol is a depressant, it disrupts your brain’s neurotransmitters, upsetting the balance. One of the most impactful effects of alcohol on the brain is the disruption of one such neurotransmitter called Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). This vital neurotransmitter is your brain’s leading source of inhibitions.
So what does that mean? Well, that’s why when you drink alcohol, you feel more relaxed, more likely to talk to people you don’t know or get up on stage and belt out “Livin’ on a Prayer” at the office karaoke night. (Normally, when you’re not under the influence, this might be totally out of the question.)
When you drink alcohol regularly, the chemical changes in your brain can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger. This leads us to the next issue: the effects of alcohol on mental health.
Alcohol and Mental Health Disorders: The Unfortunate Unvoidable Connection
Alcohol and mental health concerns are undeniably linked. It starts with how it affects dopamine; your “feel good” hormone. When you drink alcohol, it releases dopamine, temporarily making you feel like things are better than they actually might be.
While that may not seem so awful, drinking a lot of alcohol also lowers other more significant inhibitions. And that could lead to some severe consequences and regrets.
This is why many people drink to “numb” pain and stress. But the problem is, when you drink alcohol regularly, your brain comes to rely on this dopamine to feel better. And when your brain relies on alcohol to feel better, it leads to alcohol use disorder (addiction).
If you have or are at risk of developing a mental illness, you’re more likely to come to rely on alcohol or another substance. And when you develop an alcohol addiction, those mental health disorders are more likely to rise to the surface or worsen.
The bottom line is that alcohol and mental health disorders tend to go hand-in-hand. And because AUD is a mental illness in and of itself, that means if you suffer from AUD, you most likely have a dual-diagnosis issue.
Alcohol and Depression
When you abuse alcohol, thereby disrupting the delicate natural balance of neurotransmitter chemicals and dopamine, you come to rely on alcohol to feel better. Unfortunately, this short-term feeling of euphoria gets trumped by hangovers, relationship problems, poor work performance, money issues, and a decline in physical health.
It’s not difficult to see how this could then lead to depression. Again, here comes the “vicious cycle” reference again.
You drink to feel better. You feel better for a short period. But because alcohol is a depressant, you end up feeling worse. Then you drink again to feel better.
Round and round we go.
Alcohol and Anxiety
Yet another unfortunate connection between alcohol and mental health is how it can increase anxiety symptoms. If you already suffer from anxiety, you may drink to suppress your “out-of-control” or anxious thoughts and feelings.
However, when the alcohol begins to wear off, you may feel even more anxious at the thought of not feeling its effects any longer. Not to mention, it’s common for hangovers to increase anxiety symptoms as well.
One of the most dangerous things you can do if you suffer from anxiety is to mix anti-anxiety medications with alcohol. People who take prescription drugs like Xanax© and Valium© may choose to drink alcohol along with their medication to increase the calming effect. But this is extremely dangerous. It can lead to addiction to both and can cause an accidental overdose and even death.
Alcohol and Suicide
As discussed earlier, alcohol affects your inhibitions. That means, especially if you suffer from both AUD and another mental health condition such as depression (which is highly likely), you’re at risk for increased suicidal or self-harming behavior.
While you may not consider such actions when sober because alcohol lowers your inhibitions, you are more likely to participate in risky behavior and act on impulses to harm yourself. And if you already had thoughts of suicide before drinking, you’re really putting yourself at risk and need to seek help at an alcohol rehab in San Diego or near you immediately.
Getting Help at BOLD Health’s IOP in San Diego
There’s no denying the connection between alcohol and mental health disorders. Years of research by some of the world’s most reputable mental health organizations have proved the unfortunate relationship between the two.
But that doesn’t mean you have to live this way.
If any of this resonates with you, whether you’re in the thick of addiction and depression or you feel like you’re heading in that direction, you need to get professional help ASAP. Quitting alcohol cold turkey on your own can be extremely dangerous. You need the help of a reputable alcohol rehab in San Diego to help you detox and accompany you on your journey to recovery.
At BOLD Health in beautiful Encinitas, CA, we offer several mental health treatment options to help you recover from addiction and mental health concerns. Our individualized treatment plans are customized to meet your needs and may include a combination of the following options:
- individual therapy
- group therapy
- medication management
- alcohol detox program
- alcohol IOP in San Diego
Our team of highly-trained clinicians has decades of experience helping individuals just like you through alcohol treatment in San Diego. We understand how difficult it is. But we also know how possible it is for you to recover so you can live a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life.