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5 Ways Alcohol Affects Mental Health

If you're struggling with alcoholism and mental health issues, you're not alone. Charlie Health offers therapy that addresses both problems simultaneously, so you can get on the road to recovery.

Alcohol increases anxiety levels.

Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals. As a depressant, alcohol can disrupt the brain's balance of neurotransmitters, influencing our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions—and sometimes our mental health.

Although it might seem like alcohol has a positive short-term impact on your mental health when it provides you with that buzz, the long-term effects of alcohol can cause serious mental health problems. Research consistently shows that excessive alcohol use is linked to a wide range of mental health issues, from anxiety disorders to an increased risk of suicide. So, how does alcohol affect your mental health and what can you do about it?

1. Alcohol increases anxiety levels.

When you're living with an anxiety disorder, a few drinks might help you feel more at ease, but this feeling is often short-lived. The so-called "relaxation" that someone experiences after drinking occurs due to the chemical changes in the brain, but the initial mood boost wears off fast.

Sometimes, alcohol can make anxiety worse. If you rely on heavy drinking to ease your anxiety, you might find yourself drinking more often to feel better. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder.

2. Alcohol abuse is linked to depression symptoms.

Alcohol abuse is linked to depression symptoms.

The symptoms of depression and regular heavy drinking are inextricably linked. Heavy alcohol use can worsen the symptoms of depression, while people with depression may turn to alcohol to relieve their symptoms.

In addition, heavy drinking can worsen the side effects of some antidepressants. Some commonly prescribed antidepressant medications tend to increase the risk of relapse to heavy drinking in people who are trying to abstain from alcohol use.

3. Excessive alcohol use can cause psychosis.

In some cases, extreme levels of binge drinking, such as drinking significant amounts of alcohol every day for several weeks, can cause psychosis, which is a mental illness characterized by hallucinations and delusions.

Psychosis can be caused by acute intoxication, withdrawal symptoms, and chronic alcohol use. In particular, hallucinations and delusions are more common among drinkers with alcohol dependence who suddenly stop drinking

4. Alcohol dependence can lead to difficult withdrawal symptoms.

Over time, drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction. When someone who is physically dependent on alcohol stops drinking or drastically reduces their alcohol intake, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can arise.

Withdrawal symptoms can impact an individual's mental and physical health—and psychological distress and health problems can make it even harder to stop drinking. Some common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased blood pressure or heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Seizures

5. Alcohol can increase the risk of suicide.

Because alcohol use makes you lose your inhibitions and act more impulsively, it may lead to dangerous actions, such as self-harm or suicide. For some people, excessive drinking can lead to impaired judgment, but it may also be used as a means to ease the distress associated with committing suicide. Studies show that heavy drinking increases an individual's risk of suicidal thoughts, suicidal attempts, and death by suicide.

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. For immediate mental health support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit your closest emergency room.

Contact Us

If alcohol use is affecting your mental health, help is available. It might feel overwhelming to reach out for professional mental health care, but working with a licensed therapist is the first step toward controlling your drinking and overcoming substance use disorder.

At Charlie Health, we provide high-quality mental health treatment for adolescents, young adults, and their family members. Our intensive outpatient program (IOP) combines individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and access to psychiatric support (if needed) to create a customized treatment plan tailored to your unique needs.

Whether you're dealing with alcohol abuse, living with alcohol use disorder, or experiencing another mental health problem, we're here to support you. Our qualified team of mental health professionals will help you navigate your alcohol problem, gain insight into your mental health, and start feeling better.

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Reaching out takes courage. We’re here to listen to your needs, answer your questions, and match you with an appropriate treatment plan.

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