Are your drinking habits affecting your mental wellbeing?

Are your drinking habits affecting your mental wellbeing?
Are your drinking habits affecting your mental wellbeing? Are your drinking habits affecting your mental wellbeing?

At the beginning of each year, we make a promise to ourselves that one way or another, we will make beneficial changes in our life.

Whether that be finally putting that pricey gym membership to good use, eating healthier or quitting smoking, resolutions tend to focus on bettering our physical health, while our mental wellbeing often gets forgotten.

Mental health is just as important as physical health and needs nurturing all the same. That’s why we spoke to Dr Sarah Jarvis to get the low down on how alcohol – something millions of us enjoy on a weekly basis – actually affects your mental wellbeing.

Dr Jarvis is a practising GP, as well as working on the medical advisory board for Drink Aware. She’s also appeared on a number of TV and radio shows, such as as The One Show and BBC Radio 2.

What does alcohol do to your mood?

(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Alcohol alters the the brain’s chemistry and central nervous system, which in turn can have a short-term effect on our actions, emotions and thoughts.

“Alcohol’s effect on your mood is quite variable: for some people, in the short term, it can act as a relaxant, and may make you feel less anxious and more confident,” Dr Jarvis says.

“That’s because it’s depressing the part of the brain that tends to be linked to inhibition.”

However, as you drink more and more, the chemical changes in your brain may cloud your jolly mood as negative emotions take over. People are likely to become aggressive, angry or anxious with each drink they have, Dr Jarvis says.

The long-term effects can be more detrimental to our health – both physical and mental – with alcohol being linked to issues such as depression.

Does alcohol help with anxiety?

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While some people turn to drink to relax their nerves or unwind after a stressful day, alcohol is not the best way to relieve anxiety in the long run, Dr Jarvis says.

Alcohol can actually increase anxious feelings rather than subdue them, as it thwarts your perception of a situation. This may make you perceive certain things as threatening, while ignoring other information in your environment.

One example of this, given by Drink Aware, is focusing on a partner talking to a specific person that you may be jealous of – possibly arousing feelings of sadness or anger – rather than notice all the other people they’ve also been talking to on the night out.

What about depression?


Alcohol is a depressant and in being so lowers the level of serotonin, one of the brain’s chemicals that is responsible for transmitting messages from one area of the brain to another, as well as stabilising your mood.

Low serotonin levels are linked to depression and anxiety and if you suffer with depression, alcohol may only serve as a detriment and could throw you into a vicious drinking cycle.

Heavy drinking could also lead to other issues in relationships, work or social life, which could pile on further stress.

If you aren’t experiencing low moods, Dr Jarvis still advises to drink responsibly as alcohol does have a significant effect in the long run.

She adds: “If you drink heavily and you drink regularly it’s quite likely you will develop symptoms of depression”.

How do I know if I’m depressed?


Dr Jarvis suggests having an honest conversation with yourself about whether or not you have depression.

Ask yourself how many times in the last two weeks you’ve felt down or anxious, or had little interest or pleasure in things you usually enjoy.

“If the answer to either of those questions is more of half of those days, then you ought to be speaking to your GP if you’re depressed,” Dr Jarvis says.

If the answer to neither of those questions are half of those days, then you’re probably not depressed but you do need to ask yourself: Am I stressed?

“We all need some stress in our lives but if you’re getting to the stage where you’re so stressed it’s having an adverse impact on your functioning, then you should think about whether or not you need to take steps to address them,” Dr Jarvis says.

It is possible to have a healthy relationship with alcohol?

(Yui Mok/PA)

While some may use alcohol as a means of coping with their emotions, many are able to drink safely without adding risking to both their mental and physical health.

For those who don’t believe they drink to relieve stress or depression, Dr Jarvis suggests they keep still keep an eye on their drinking habits. Do you get to the stage where you fail to do things expected of you? Do you wake up in the morning without the faintest of memories what happened the night before? If so, you should probably re-evaluate your drinking habits.

It is entirely possible to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, she says, as long as you abide by the NHS guidelines. It suggests you shouldn’t regularly drink more than 14 units a week – a pint accounting for two units, 2.1 for a large glass of white wine, and one for a single shot of spirit.

Dr Jarvis suggests is keeping an accurate account on how much you’re drinking – which you can do using the Drink Aware app – as people largely underestimate how much they drink.

“What we need to bare in mind, there is no lower threshold at which drinking alcohol does no harm at all,” she adds.

“There’s no question, alcohol is our favourite drug.”