Alcohol and mental health

USING alcohol to cope with difficult feelings or problems can create more problems. You may not realise that drinking is affecting your health, but there can be early warning signs. Mental health symptoms caused by problem drinking include:

  • memory problems
  • concentration problems
  • finding it hard to learn new things
  • personality changes
  • hazy thinking
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • It is important that you talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

    Coping skills

    If you use alcohol to cope with stress and worry, you miss out on developing healthy coping skills. Coping skills include:

  • 1 talking about your problems
  • 2 getting professional help
  • 3 using stress management techniques
  • The next time you face a challenge, you may feel more overwhelmed and more likely to turn to alcohol again. Poor sleep, hangovers and health problems can also make you feel less able to cope.


    Getting drunk or spending too much time drinking can cause arguments. It can also result in neglecting or hurting the people you care about.

    Mental health conditions

    Alcohol can make the symptoms of mental health conditions worse; for example, depression and anxiety. Your mood can improve when you cut down or stop drinking. Using alcohol to manage social anxiety can prevent you from developing social and coping skills. You may also:

  • start to rely on alcohol
  • feel very anxious in social situations where alcohol isn’t available
  • start to avoid social situations
  • Social anxiety is more than shyness. It’s a fear that continues after the social event.

    Using alcohol to numb


    ‘Drowning your sorrows’ is a common reaction to difficult emotions. Sometimes you might not even know what’s bothering you. You just know that you feel bad and want to forget for a while. Alcohol can give you temporary relief.

    You may find that you need to drink more to stay numb and avoid your emotions. This can lead to dependence on alcohol.

    Releasing emotions

    Alcohol can make bad feelings come to the surface or make them feel more intense. This is one of the reasons you may become upset, angry or aggressive when drinking. Trying to manage these feelings when you have been drinking can lead to:

  • I. arguments
  • II. violence
  • III. self-harm
  • IV. thoughts of suicide
  • Alcohol, anger and low self-esteem

    Alcohol can release pent-up feelings. It can also make feelings of anger and frustration more intense. Alcohol can be used as an excuse for behaviour. This can lead to deep regret if you have caused any hurt.

    Having low self-esteem can undermine the following:

  • a. your quality of life
  • b. your achievements
  • c. relationships
  • d. your ability to be happy
  • Alcohol is a temporary and sometimes damaging response to a longer-term problem. It may stop you from finding ways to cope and maintain your self-esteem. Your drinking may become heavier or you may start to rely on alcohol. This can lead to behaving in a way that makes you feel worse about yourself.

    Alcohol and stress

    You may drink alcohol to relieve stress or to relax. Alcohol may make you feel relaxed at first. But when the effects wear off, the stress and the problems that are causing the stress are still there. They may also be worse.

    Alcohol, self-harm and suicide

    Alcohol can make you more likely to act in an uncontrolled or impulsive way. There is a strong link between alcohol abuse, self-harm and suicide. Your risk of suicide increases if you are abusing alcohol.

    Alcohol and depression

    ALCOHOL can cause depression or make it worse. It may make you feel less anxious or down while you are drinking. But when the effects of the alcohol wear off you can feel worse than you did before.

    If you feel depressed, alcohol can make you feel better for a few hours. It can make you feel relaxed and change your mood. It can numb difficult feelings for a time and may help you to fall asleep. But you won’t get the quality of sleep you would get if you were not drinking.

    The enjoyable effect of alcohol is temporary. You may even feel worse after drinking. This is because alcohol changes your brain chemistry. This is why you often feel down or anxious the morning after a night’s drinking.

    If you drink a lot you are more likely to struggle with depressed feelings. These feelings may encourage you to drink more to cope. This can then become a cycle.


    Self-medicating is using alcohol as a medicine to cope with depression. If you do this, you may be at risk of deepening the feelings of depression. You may also rely on alcohol more. If this becomes your way of coping, it can lead to a dependence on alcohol.

    If you have depression, you are more likely to drink heavily.

    While stopping drinking will not remove all the causes of low mood, it will remove one. This will allow you to have a chance at dealing with the others. Even cutting down should improve your symptoms. The more you drink, the worse the symptoms get.

    If you stop drinking and it does not improve your symptoms within a few weeks, there may be other causes. Talk to your doctor or local health professional if you think that you will find it hard to stop drinking.

    Little steps

    Taking little steps to boost your mental health can help you to feel better. Tell someone you trust how you feel. It can be a great relief to share your feelings. If you feel more comfortable talking in private, there are helplines you can call.

    Contact the Samaritans on freephone 116 123 or email A doctor can give you information about support services or counselling. Sometimes a short course of medication can be helpful.