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Alcohol And Mental Health

Alcohol can temporarily relieve some negative thoughts and feelings because it alters the chemistry of your brain. But over the long term heavy drinking can magnify problems and make life more difficult.

What is the connection between depression and alcohol?

We know that there is a connection – Thoughts of self-harm and suicide are much commoner in people with alcohol problems. It seems that it can work in two ways:

You regularly drink too much  which makes you feel depressed

          OR

You drink to relieve anxiety or depression.

Either way:

  • Alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression.
  • Hangovers can create a cycle of waking up feeling ill, anxious, jittery and guilty.
  • Life gets depressing – arguments with family or friends, trouble at work, memory and sexual problems

Helping depression

We know that most depressed drinkers will start to feel better within a few weeks of cutting out alcohol. So, it is usually best to tackle the alcohol first, and then deal with the depression if it has not lifted after a few weeks.

After a few alcohol-free weeks, you will probably feel fitter and brighter in your mood.  Friends and family may find you easier to get on with. If your feelings of depression do lift, it's likely that they were caused by the drinking.

If the depression is still with you after four weeks of not drinking, talk to your GP about further help. It may be useful to talk over your feelings, particularly if your depression seems linked to some crisis in your life. Common issues are relationship problems, unemployment, divorce, bereavement or some other loss. Counselling may be helpful.

If the depression does not lift and is particularly severe, your GP may recommend a talking treatments or suggest antidepressant medication. In either case, you will need to stay away from alcohol and go on with the treatment for several months. 

What impact does Alcohol use have on the brain and your memory?

Alcohol can also damage your memory and brain function. After only a few drinks your memory can be impaired and your brain processes slow down.

Large quantities of alcohol can lead to short term memory failure or ‘blackouts’.

Drinking heavily over a longer period can have long term effects on memory. Alcohol affects many parts of the brain making it difficult to recall old memories or lay down new ones.

There is particular concern about the effects on young drinkers because the brain is still developing until the age of 18 or 19.