Heavy drinking can affect the chemicals in the brain that are essential for good mental health. People may feel relaxed after drinking, but in time alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain contributing to feelings of anxiety and depression and making stressful situations harder to manage. People with alcohol addiction may develop mental health disorders leading to dual diagnosis.

Often people start drinking alcohol on different occasions such as:

  • Celebrating a birthday or a success
  • To unwind after a hard day at the job
  • As a reward after finishing a project
  • Death of a friend or family member
  • Crisis life event

Excessive drinking can affect your mood and mental wellbeing:

  • Alcohol affects physical health.
  • Alcohol can harm your mental health.
  • Alcohol is considered a stimulant associated with pleasurable feelings and talkativeness and it is often consumed during social interactions.
  • Alcohol can lead to chemical imbalances in the brain, affecting serotonin production (serotonin helps with regulating the mood); when drinking too much someone can feel worse than before.
  • Using alcohol as a coping mechanism to release stress can be risky as it can deepen the dependence.

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Alcohol can affect brain chemistry by disrupting its balance.

The first sign that brain chemistry is changing is the relaxed feeling you get after the first glass of alcohol. Alcohol can relax a part of the brain responsible for inhibition. As a result, you may feel more confident and less stressed.

Excessive drinking is associated with a low level of serotonin in the brain. As serotonin is responsible for regulating the mood, when drinking too much, negative emotions can take over (anxiety, depression, anger).

When increasing alcohol consumption, you may experience more often negative emotions that can affect your mental health in the long term.

Instead of improving the mood, alcohol can make it worse. Excessive drinking is linked to aggression and high levels of anxiety and depression.

Alcohol can worsen mental health disorders

People struggling with mental health disorders might use alcohol believing they will feel better. If this is also your coping technique, you will find yourself drinking more and more alcohol without the benefits of feeling better.

As alcohol changes your brain chemistry, the unpleasant symptoms and mood disorders can amplify, such as thoughts of self-harm, psychosis and even suicide. Alcohol abuse can increase recklessness, and it can lead to a higher risk of harming yourself.

It is not recommended to drink alcohol while taking medications for mental health disorders, as it can worsen symptoms or even cause death.

If your main coping strategy is alcohol, it is important to talk about it with a rehab specialist, especially if you know you are treated for mental health conditions.

Alcohol and Anxiety

People experience anxiety as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, trauma or a stressful situation. When anxiety becomes more than a temporary sensation, usually these individuals suffer from an anxiety disorder. They have prolonged periods when they feel anxious, or experience intense bursts of anxiety and panic attacks. An anxiety disorder can affect every aspect of an individual’s life, often leading to ruined relationships and low life quality.

Some people start consuming alcohol to better cope with their anxiety issues. Alcohol is a depressant and when consumed in larger quantities can have a sedative effect. An alcohol user can often experience increased levels of relaxation. Some individuals use alcohol to feel less stressed in their lives.

But the use of alcohol to decrease anxiety is an unhealthy strategy that can lead to worsening symptoms of alcohol addiction.

Excessive drinking can lead to the rewiring of the brain. This can make a person more susceptible to the development of anxiety problems.

Prolonged drinking in some instances may cause substance-induced anxiety. This type of anxiety can occur in those who struggle with another anxiety disorder. Adding this additional issue only deepens the effects of the initial disorder.

Alcohol and depression

Excessive drinking regularly can lead to developing symptoms of depression. This is caused by a lowered production of serotonin in the brain.

For some people, as the stress hormones are triggered by excessive drinking, alcohol can create more stress in the body than reducing it.

If you do not have a mental health disorder but you worry drinking is affecting your mood and the quality of your life, you can change that by using healthy coping techniques.

Healthy coping techniques

Developing healthier habits that reduce stress and tension can help you in long-term living a healthier and fulfilled life. Take into account these six healthy coping techniques to improve your life:

  • Meditation
  • Walking in the park/ forest/ on the beach
  • Exercising regularly (Pilates, yoga, swimming)
  • Practising mindfulness
  • Having a hobby
  • Going to talk therapy

Symptoms of alcohol dependence

If you or a loved one is struggling with an alcohol addiction you may want to recognize the symptoms to ask for specialized help:

  • Physical changes, such as:
    • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
    • Deterioration of physical appearance
    • Bloodshot eyes and abnormally sized pupils
    • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
    • Tremors, slurred speech, and lack of coordination
  • Behavioural changes, such as:
    • Low performance at work or school
    • Becoming secretive or suspicious
    • Injuries, fights, and illegal activities
    • Drink driving
    • Loss of appetite
    • Insomnia
    • Irritability, anger, anxiety, depression
    • Lack of motivation
  • Social changes, such as:
    • New entourage and new hobbies
    • Financial problems
    • Damaged personal relationships

Alcohol addiction treatment and co-occurring mental disorders treatment

For a patient with alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders, both the mental health condition and the alcohol dependence have their unique symptoms that may prevent that person from functioning properly at work or school, maintaining a healthy home life, handling life’s stressful situations, and forming meaningful relationships with others.

The treatment plan for a patient with alcohol addiction and mental health problems may include medication, individual therapy, learning healthy coping skills, making lifestyle changes, and attending group counselling for peer support.

Treatment for substance abuse may include detoxification, managing withdrawal symptoms, behavioural therapy, and support groups to help maintain the path of sobriety.

Castle Health Treatment Centres offer therapies to treat both substance use and mental health conditions. Our  rehab specialists are trained to provide treatment for patients who misuse alcohol and suffer from mental health disorders.

Between the two types of treatment, there are certain differences. Treatment for mental health disorder at Castle Health is more about understanding a person’s thoughts, behaviours, and feelings, the goal being to improve those patterns through therapy. In certain cases, a patient might be given medication as well to support the chemical balancing of the brain.

For alcohol misuse and mental health conditions, the treatment is focused on a holistic approach (mind, body, and spirit). A complete treatment programme includes:

  • Assessment – The treatment specialist usually makes a mental and medical screening of a patient, while focusing on his medical history. This assessment is useful in building a customized treatment plan for the patient.
  • Detoxification – When someone decides to quit drinking the withdrawal can be difficult, that is why detox from alcohol is supervised by a team of rehab specialists. Withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be difficult to manage. For these symptoms, doctors can prescribe certain medications to patients with alcohol addiction.
  • Learning about addiction and mental health disorders – Understanding these two components is essential in helping patients with addiction and mental health disorders release the feeling of shame.
  • Behavioural therapy – Psychotherapy is the best way to support patients in recognizing their negative thought patterns and developing new positive coping mechanisms for a healthier and better life.
  • Support Group – Support Group influences positively the patients and offers mutual support. The focus is revolving around the motto: You are not alone. Group therapies are crucial in treating mental health conditions.
  • After Care – As the addiction and mental health disorders need management of symptoms even after stabilization, this part of the rehab treatment is important for the recovery process.

Alcohol misuse paired with mental health disorders can negatively affect your life if you are not treated properly. Contact one of our rehab specialists today for treatment help and therapy.