Alcohol and Low Moods
Alcohol has been a part of our culture for centuries but over the past few years there has been a trend towards drinking at an earlier age and drinking more. This has resulted in concerns over the physical and mental health of consumers and it’s this second point, the way alcohol influences mood, which is the focus of this post.
Can you remember your first taste of alcohol? I can. I pestered my father for a taste of his beer and when he finally relented I remember my astonishment at the sour taste of this glass of brown liquid. How could anyone actually like this stuff? It was several years before my next attempt. Things might be very different today. When my daughter started drinking I asked to taste the fluorescent blue and green liquids that seemed so appealing. I could see why. They were sweet, fruity, and clearly designed for a young palate. There is nothing in these drinks to say they are different to the fruit juices and fizzy drinks that most kids consume. In these drinks, alcohol is something of an insidious passenger, but its effects are very real.
So what’s the connection between low moods and alcohol? Well, it’s a long established fact that the two go together. A low mood can be the catalyst for alcohol just as much as alcohol can lead to a low mood. This connection leads to certain outcomes. For example, we know that self-harm and suicide is far more common in people who drink alcohol. We also know that alcohol is a psychoactive drug that alters the chemistry of the brain.
Most people who drink are rather poor judges of the amount of alcohol they consume. And there is little point drawing comparisons with others. The fact that you drink half the amount a friend or colleague consumes doesn’t mean you are at any less risk. We all respond differently to alcohol and our sex, build, existing health and age can all influence the way alcohol affects us. There are certainly plenty of charts and tables around that spell out the unit values of alcohol, but I suspect only the most diligent or concerned pay very much attention to them.
In terms of how alcohol affects mood there are warning signs that things may be going too far. For example, you find you are drinking more regularly because you feel it boosts your confidence. Your job or life circumstances are such that alcohol brings some relief from the frustration, anger or depression you feel. You’re aware that you are more moody, that others are mentioning your moods and your drinking, and that they look uneasy and uncomfortable. Maybe you too have an awareness that things are getting out of control? Perhaps you feel angry or even ashamed at yourself for using alcohol when you know it’s a slippery slope?
There hopefully comes a point when such a person decides something needs to be done. Some people, often couples, make the decision that coming home and working through a bottle of wine every night isn’t the best idea, especially when it extends to a second bottle. They can support each other in turning things around in often painless and health affirming ways. Some people don’t have the support, or have let things go too far. They need help for the alcohol they consume as much as the depression they experience. When alcohol and depression are linked in this way it is generally better to tackle the alcohol issue first. Very often this will help to alleviate depression symptoms, but if it hasn’t then depression can be treated by other means. If alcohol use and depression result from say a relationship breakdown or being made redundant, then counseling may be helpful.
There are many medical and voluntary services available to support people who feel they have a drink problem. Your first stop could be your family doctor who may be able to assess the damage (if any) to date and recommend a plan of action. Otherwise, the well-regarded Alcoholics Anonymous organization offers a network of group support sites and personal advice lines.