While many of us like a drink from time to time, for some of us, the effect of alcohol is negatively impacting our day to day lives.
How alcohol affects the brain and body
Alcohol can affect your body, as well as your mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Alcohol is a depressant that distorts the chemical messaging processes in your brain, making it difficult to predict how you will feel and react to it.
Alcohol can lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels, both of which help regulate mood. Lower levels of these chemicals can make a depressed person more depressed. Alcohol can also leave you feeling, anxious, agitated, unmotivated, sad, moody and angry.
When you drink alcohol, you may fall asleep faster, but as the night goes on you get more restless. Alcohol can interrupt your circadian rhythm and block rapid eye moment (REM) sleep often considered the most restorative type of sleep. When you wake up the next day, you can feel tired and unfocused (read more on why sleep is good for your mental health).
The mental and emotional effects of alcohol vary from person to person. This depends on how much a person drinks, for how long and any pre-existing mental illness. Sometimes people with depression or anxiety turn to alcohol as a way to try and cope. Some people use alcohol to mask their symptoms or to help make them feel better, not realising it can leave you feeling worse.
I am concerned about my drinking
If you are concerned you are drinking too much alcohol, ask yourself the following questions:
- How often am I drinking?
- Do I drink by myself?
- Does my behaviour change when I drink?
- Do I forget what happened when I was drinking?
- How do my family and friends feel about my drinking?
- Have I ever had to apologise to someone after a drinking session?
- Is my drinking affecting my relationships or work?
- Do I feel the need to drink?
- Am I using alcohol to cope?
It may be difficult to admit that you have a problem, but recognising it is a good first step.
Forming new habits
It is easy to fall into bad habits, and change can be hard. We’re creatures of habit, and we often underestimate the process of change (see our article on why change is hard).
Reducing and changing your consumption of alcohol can take time. Some ways you can start include:
- Avoid keeping alcohol in the house
- Don’t drink alone
- Drink slowly
- Limit drinking to meal times only
- Set a drinking limit and stick to it
- Don’t get into drinking rounds with your friends
- Alternate with non-alcoholic drinks
- Use exercise and relaxation techniques to manage stress.