Self-medication with alcohol
Many adults are using alcohol to deal with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, according to a new report from the Mental Health Foundation. The report, ‘Cheers?’ – outlines the relationship between alcohol and mental health and describes how excessive drinking increases vulnerability to a range of mental health problems.
National opinion poll research carried out to identify reasons for drinking found that people reported that alcohol made them feel:
- relaxed (77 per cent)
- happy (63 per cent)
- more able to fit in socially (44 per cent)
- more confident (41 per cent).
The results also revealed that drinking alcohol made people:
- feel less anxious (40 per cent)
- less depressed (26 per cent)
- more able to forget their problems (30 per cent).
This is consistent with the theory that people use alcohol to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression
Evidence outlined in the ‘Cheers?’ report also shows that people who drink high volumes of alcohol are vulnerable to mental ill health. Over the last 50 years, alcohol consumption has doubled in the UK, mirroring an increase in the number of people experiencing mental illness.
Regular drinking changes the chemistry of the brain and depletes the neurotransmitters the brain needs to prevent anxiety and depression naturally. According to the World Health Organisation, enough evidence exists to show alcohol can contribute to depression.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, physical health concerns related to increasing alcohol consumption are being reflected in Government policy developments, yet very little attention has been given to the links between alcohol and mental health, with little debate about why people drink alcohol.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “The research confirms our worries that people are drinking to cope with emotions and situations they can’t otherwise manage, to deal with feelings of anxiety and depression.
“Drinking alcohol is a very common and accepted way of coping – our culture allows us to use alcohol for ‘medicinal purposes’ or ‘dutch courage’ from an early age. But using alcohol to deal with anxiety and depression doesn’t work as alcohol can weaken the neurotransmitters that the brain needs to reduce anxiety and depressive thoughts. This is why lots of people feel low when they have a hangover.”
The report makes a number of Government policy recommendations.
Research report; Cheers? Understanding the relationship between alcohol and mental health. Mental Health Foundation. April 2006. Alcohol Alert (2006) is published by The Institute of Alcohol Studies an initiative of the Alliance House Foundation, www.ias.org.uk