How Alcohol Affects Mental Health
You probably know what we’re going to say here: alcohol and mental health don’t mix. But before you write us off, we’ll be honest upfront. We definitely acknowledge that, for some, alcohol can be a short-term mood-booster. Key word there is: short-term. The big sticking point is that alcohol is a depressant and can have increasingly harmful effects with regular use.
And that becomes an even more complicated problem because it can be hard to track. You might not see any negative effects at first. They usually creep in slowly. Then, what feels like all of a sudden, you feel bad and can’t seem to put your finger on why.
We can’t blame alcohol for all mental health problems. But if you’re drinking regularly and not feeling great, it’s well worth looking at your drink intake. Let’s take a closer look at why.
Your brain on alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant. That’s why people often turn to it to take the edge off a hard day — or to self-medicate pre-existing mental health conditions. Alcohol interacts with our brain chemistry, changing the way we feel.
At first, it might make you feel good. But as one drink turns to three, things change.
With regular use, especially in large amounts, alcohol can trigger emotions like:
It can also worsen the symptoms of mental health challenges you already have, like anxiety or depression.
All the while, alcohol can disrupt the chemical messengers in your brain (called neurotransmitters). This is why alcohol lowers your inhibitions, often leading to decisions that you wouldn’t necessarily make if you were sober. If you’ve ever had the hangover guilts, you’ve probably felt this negative effect of booze.
It gets more serious than waking up and regretting last night. When inhibitions are lowered, people are more likely to make risky decisions. And if they’re living with a mental illness like depression, that includes self-harm. Nearly a quarter of all people who commit suicide were drinking heavily at the time.
Learning your limits
The main takeaway here is that the more you drink, the greater your risk for brain chemistry problems, unwelcome feelings, and the risk of bodily harm. (Heck, we haven’t even talked about the toll alcohol takes on your physical body.)
That means that if you want a way to protect your mental and physical health, you should be mindful of your alcohol intake.
At the very least, we encourage everyone to take some time off from drinking occasionally. Sober October is coming up, which could be a perfect chance to see if you feel better — mentally and physically — without booze. At the very least, you’ll save some money by skipping the drinks when you’re out.
If scaling back on drinking feels really hard, it could be a sign of addiction. Check in with yourself. If you think it could be addiction, know that you’re not alone. Doughp was born from our founder Kelsey’s journey into sobriety. Recovery isn’t easy, but we’re here for you. Join our Doughp4Hope mission and follow us on socials to be a part of the raw convos we’re having about addiction, mental health, and more.
Beyond that, if you need help changing your relationship with alcohol or stopping drinking altogether, we have some resources:
- The SHE Recovers Foundation, which helps women on their recovery journey
- Monument, which offers online alcohol treatment
- The Reframe app, which helps you change your drinking habits
- Men’s Group, an online support group for men
- The crisis text line
And if you use alcohol to unwind or treat yourself, maybe consider swapping your next drink for some cookie dough.