The Mental Cost of Drinking Pints
I was asked recently to talk more about how mental health and alcohol relate to one another. I wrote a piece on this a few years back for HeadStuff, but it never made it on here. It’s definitely an important relationship to be aware of. Not only can alcohol be destructive for your good mental health, it can also make bad mental health a lot worse. I’ve learned over the years that I’ve been drinking to identify the motivation for my drinking. If I’m drinking because it enhances my experience; if it’s for the enjoyment of a night out, then it’s generally an okay thing to do, although it still shouldn’t happen that often. However if I’m drinking to escape something, if my primary reason for drinking today is to get away from a bad feeling, situation etc. that’s when it can become dangerous.
It’s common knowledge today that alcohol is a depressant. Even if you’re a person who doesn’t tend to feel low, alcohol will increase your experience of sadness, especially the day after. The trick here is to know that this unexpected sadness is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. It can be unnerving to feel this sadness, but it almost always wears off after a couple of days. However, if you already are accustomed to prolonged periods of sadness, then alcohol will work to intensify that sadness which for some is unfortunately unbearable. In 2017 Ulster University published a study which stated that in 56% of suicides of 1600 suicides there was alcohol present in the blood. That’s no joke man. If you already suffer from severe mental health problems, using this drug can have irreversible effects.
And yes, alcohol is a drug. It’s legal and it’s socially acceptable, but it’s still a drug. Arguably it’s the most destructive in terms of long term health too. However, especially here in Ireland, it has become the absolute norm to abuse alcohol. It’s normal to go out on a night and get overly drunk. It’s actually weird if you DON’T drink. You’re perceived as an outlier if you’re not getting habitually shit-faced. If you take a step-back from it, it’s pretty clear to see that our culture basically promotes the over-use of alcohol; a drug that is present in over half of the suicides that occur nationwide.
I’m not saying don’t drink. That’s unrealistic and quite hypocritical. What I will say is, be aware of it. If you’re drinking to escape, don’t. If you start to panic because you feel sad, or have existential dread after a night’s drinking, this too shall pass. If you cut your finger and it started bleeding, you wouldn’t argue that the blood came from anywhere besides the new cut. The same goes with alcohol and sadness. Cause and effect.
Consistent misuse of alcohol will affect your mental health. A lot of the time these are short term effects, but sometimes they’re permanent. A general rule of thumb that I have is that if I’m feeling bad mentally already, it’s not a good idea to go and get drunk. It takes self-control and discipline to do that, and I don’t always get it right. Be aware of it, and if the post-drinkin blues feel too intense (which they can) then go hang out with some friends and talk about it. Hangovers are so much easier if you’re with your people.