The Link Between Alcohol and Mental Health

One of the most common substance addictions is to that of alcohol. This is partly because alcohol is so easily accessible. The fact that alcohol is often the first substance that people turn to when they want to celebrate or commiserate on their own failures also doesn’t help. Because consuming large amounts of alcohol slows down and numbs your thoughts, actions, and feelings, many people with mental health issues abuse alcohol to cope with negative thoughts. As a result, alcohol and mental health disorders often go hand in hand. 

To further understand why and how alcohol and mental health disorders often co-occur, you must first understand alcoholism and mental illness individually.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

alcohol and mental health

Other terms for alcohol use disorder (AUD) include alcohol addiction and alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) develops when people form changes in their brain chemistry as a result of chronic alcohol abuse. One part of your brain that alcohol abuse alters is the part with the neurotransmitters that make you feel pleasure. As a result, you start needing to consume alcohol to feel any pleasure at all. 

The inability to experience pleasure without abusing alcohol often causes mental health issues in alcoholics. This is just another correlation between alcohol and mental health.

Chronic alcohol abuse also affects the parts of your brain that cause you to exercise self-control and good judgment. This is why people with alcohol addiction exhibit little self-control and are reckless with their actions. 

People with alcohol addictions must also suffer from withdrawal symptoms whenever they stop or minimize their consumption of alcohol. This is because exhibiting withdrawal symptoms from alcohol shows that you’re dependent on it.  

Causes of Alcohol Use Disorder

There are many factors that can cause a person to chronically abuse alcohol to the point of addiction. These factors are usually either biological, environmental, psychological, or social.

Biological Factors of Alcohol Addiction

One way to know if you have a biological predisposition to becoming an alcoholic is to look at your family history. For example, many people who are genetically predisposed to alcohol addiction contain older family members that suffer from alcoholism. This is because alcoholism runs in that person’s DNA.

Evidence also shows that many alcoholics are riskier by nature due to their genetics. As a result, these people are more prone to want to binge drink alcohol in the first place. 

Environmental Factors of Alcohol Addiction

Another reason why some people develop alcohol use disorders is because of their environment. For example, if you grew up in a house where alcohol was extensively used, then abusing alcohol seems normal. This is because you witnessed alcohol abuse at a young age. 

Using substances at an early age is also an environmental factor that causes some people to develop an addiction to alcohol. This is because altering your brain’s chemistry through alcohol abuse while you’re still young makes your brain more dependent on alcohol to function. 

Social Factors of Alcohol Addiction

Peer pressure from friends while growing up can also cause you to abuse alcohol. A change in your social circle from people who didn’t abuse alcohol to people who do can cause you to abuse alcohol as well.

Psychological Factors of Alcohol Addiction

One psychological factor that often causes people to develop an addiction to alcohol is past trauma. This is because many people that experience past trauma drink alcohol to cope with it. 

Alcohol and mental health are often associated with one another. As a result, the correlation between trauma and alcohol abuse shouldn’t be a surprise. In fact, suffering from many mental illnesses increases the chance of developing an alcohol use disorder. 

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder comes in varying degrees of severity. As a result, the signs and symptoms that a person that is suffering from alcohol addiction may exhibit can vary. If you or someone else exhibits multiple of the following signs or symptoms and is chronically abusing alcohol, then it’s likely that you or that person has an alcohol use disorder. 

  • Inability to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Spending all of your time drinking or trying to get alcohol
  • Experiencing strong cravings or withdrawals from alcohol when you stop or minimize your alcohol consumption
  • Showing a lack of interest in things that once interested you due to your alcohol use
  • Having problems at work or school due to your alcohol abuse
  • Exhibiting reckless behavior to drink alcohol
  • Increased tolerance for alcohol
  • Continuing to drink even though it’s causing you physical, mental, or social harm
  • Change in social circle
  • Continually lying about your whereabouts
  • Cheating and stealing

Alcohol and Mental Health

Alcohol abuse often leads to mental illness and vice versa. Alcohol abuse can lead to mental illness because chronic alcohol abuse alters your brain’s chemistry in a way that causes the pleasure neurotransmitters in your brain to need large amounts of alcohol to signal off. As a result, alcoholics start to never feel pleasure unless they are abusing alcohol. 

This causes many alcoholics to experience depression and other mental illnesses. Research done by the Mental Health Foundation even shows that people with alcohol dependency are more likely to commit suicide. This research is backed up by the fact that as many as 65% of suicides have been linked to drinking. This research also shows that people with alcohol dependency suffer from higher levels of depression, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. 

Mental illness often leads to alcohol abuse because many people drink to cope with the symptoms of mental illness. In fact, according to the Mental Health Foundation, you are 3.6 times more likely to develop a mood disorder if you’re already dependent on alcohol. You are 2.6 times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if you are dependent on alcohol. 

Alcohol and Mental Health Disorders

There is countless evidence that proves the correlation between alcohol and mental health issues. For example, there are many mental illnesses that occur at higher rates when a person suffers from alcohol addiction. 

This is because chronic alcohol abuse causes the brain to rely on alcohol to feel any sort of pleasure at all. As a result, you start to need to consume more and more alcohol just to feel. This creates a cycle of depression and alcohol abuse. 

Anxiety and Alcohol Addiction

Because alcohol can have calming effects on someone with anxiety at first, many people with anxiety start abusing alcohol. Unfortunately, such continued alcohol abuse often turns into alcohol dependency and addiction. This then causes people with anxiety to experience increased panic and insomnia whenever they don’t consume large amounts of alcohol. 

Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Addiction

Bipolar disorder is characterized by intense mood swings. People with bipolar disorder may feel a boost of energy and happiness when they are in a high mood swing. The opposite occurs when they are in a low mood swing. As a result, people with bipolar disorder that are going through lows feel fatigue, restlessness, and loss of interest in things that they normally find interesting. 

Because the low bipolar symptoms are similar to that of depression, like with depression, many people with bipolar disorder also use alcohol to self-medicate themselves and cope. Unfortunately, similar to when done with depression, chronic abuse of alcohol can often worsen bipolar disorder symptoms. 

Depression and Alcohol Addiction

People that suffer from depression also tend to abuse alcohol because they drink to suppress their persistent feelings of sadness and make them feel better. Alcohol may make a depressed person feel a high at first. Continual alcohol abuse will only increase your depression symptoms over time, though. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Alcohol Addiction

When people suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they experience uncontrollable obsessions and compulsions. To distract themselves from these obsessions and compulsions, many people with OCD abuse alcohol. 

Sadly, like with most mental illnesses, alcohol abuse only makes OCD symptoms worse. In fact, abusing alcohol while suffering from OCD can cause severe health complications and emotional issues. 

Schizophrenia and Alcohol Addiction

People that suffer from schizophrenia experience continual delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. They also experience disorganized speech, thoughts, and behaviors, lack of emotional expression, and a lack of motivation. 

As many as one-third of people who suffer from schizophrenia also have an alcohol use disorder. This is partly because they use alcohol as a form of self-medication to cope with their symptoms. Most people with schizophrenia started abusing alcohol prior to suffering from schizophrenia, though. This is because alcohol abuse can bring about schizophrenia symptoms in people that already have a predisposition to schizophrenia or that already experience mild schizophrenia symptoms.

Mental Health and Alcohol Treatment

When treating issues with alcohol and mental health simultaneously, you must first attend detox at an addiction treatment center or detox facility. Because of how addictive alcohol is and the severity of the withdrawal symptoms that you may experience when detoxing from alcohol, you cannot detox from alcohol on your own. You must seek out professional help. 

Once you complete detox, you must receive mental health and alcohol treatment through a co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis treatment program. This program should preferably occur in an inpatient treatment format. 

Any proper dual diagnosis mental health and alcohol treatment program should contain different types of individual and group therapy along with addiction treatment. Behavioral therapy is ideal when in mental health and alcohol treatment. 

If you still need medication to keep you from relapsing, you can also take naltrexone and acamprosate when in detox and in mental health and alcohol treatment. You can also take medication to help you manage your mental illness during and after treatment if you need it. Just be careful and consult with the doctors, addiction treatment specialists, and therapists at your treatment center about any medications you plan on taking.

After your mental health and addiction treatment is complete, you should receive continued support through aftercare and 12-step programs

Harmony Ridge Recovery Center is the Place to Receive Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

At Harmony Ridge, we understand the impact that mental health can have on addiction and vice versa. That’s why we provide our patients with dual diagnosis treatment and a plethora of therapeutic services on top of our countless detox and addiction treatment programs. Thus, whether you’re looking to receive individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, or a combination of the three while in treatment, we’ve got you covered. 

Here at Harmony Ridge, our alcohol and mental health detox and treatment programs are second to none. Outside of alcohol detox and treatment, some of the other substances that we provide detox and treatment services for include cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, benzodiazepines, Ambien, and barbiturates

To learn more about Harmony Ridge and the services that we provide, contact us today. 

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