Alcohol Is a Part of the Problem, Not the Solution; Health Reporter HELEN RAE Explains the Link between Mental Health Problems and Alcohol Misuse

Article excerpt

Byline: HELEN RAE

COMMON reasons for drinking include feeling relaxed, happy, more confident, less anxious and less depressed.

But a complex relationship between drinking and mental ill health means the reality is alcohol is part of the problem rather than a solution to mental illness.

Eilish Gilvarry, Consultant Psychiatrist in Addictions at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust said: "Alcohol can affect mental health in lots of different and complex ways.

"Contrary to what many people think, alcohol is not a stimulant, it actually works by depressing brain function. So while small amounts of alcohol might temporarily improve your mood, drinking excessively usually has the opposite effect.

"People who already have a mental illness may use alcohol to help 'numb' their emotions or alleviate their symptoms which we sometimes refer to as selfmedicating.

"The problem with this is that whilst it may seem to help in the short-term, long-term it may actually worsen mental illness."

Long-term heavy drinking actually changes the chemistry of the brain and increases the risk of more serious mental health disorders.

"Heavy alcohol use over a sustained period of time increases the risk of developing a range of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, damage to your brain and memory - and increased risk of self-harm and suicide," said Eilish.

She added: "Heavy drinking can also lead to a wide range of social problems as well, including domestic violence, marital breakdown, family problems and child neglect, and effects on work which can all then lead to increased depression and anxiety." Despite the devastating impact alcohol abuse can have on mental health and ultimately all aspects of a person''s life, the message for people struggling with a drinking problem is one of optimism. …