Alcohol and Mental Health

Alcohol and Mental Health

To celebrate the arrival of Dry July we take a look into the link between alcohol and mental health.

This month is Dry July, a fundraiser that encourages people to be alcohol-free in the month of July to raise funds for people affected by cancer. For most though, the idea of going alcohol-free for a month fills seems completely daunting.

Alcohol is a huge part of our culture, whether it is going for after work drinks, socialising with friends, or family get-togethers. Studies repeatedly show that drinking alcohol is the most commonly used legal of drug in Australia.

However, alcohol can have hugely detrimental effects on our physical health, mental health and emotional wellbeing. Abusing alcohol can lead to impacts such as liver damage, heart disease, high blood pressure as well as increased risk of developing or exacerbating depression and anxiety symptoms. Taking some time off alcohol can help reset the body and the mind from the effects of alcohol and lead to health benefits.

That’s why this month we will explore:

  • What is Dry July?
  • How you can get involved?
  • The relationship between alcohol and mental health.
  • How addressing your relationship with alcohol can benefit your mental and physical health.

Key Statistics

(Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics and SANE)

  • 80% of adult Australians drank alcohol in the last year
  • 1.9 million Australians drink more than 6 standard drinks per day.
  • The average Australian household spends $32.25 on alcohol per week.

What is Dry July?

Dry July is a fundraising initiative that was started in July 2008 by 3 Australian men who wanted to take a break from alcohol and raise money for people suffering with cancer. They wanted to start off raising $3,000 to buy a TV for their local hospital’s waiting room. Their first campaign exceeded expectations and raised a huge $250,000.

Since, every year Dry July acts as an encourager for people to take an alcohol-free month and try to raise much needed money for cancer patients, their families and carers.
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The Impacts of Alcohol

Alcohol, despite being legal and widely used, can have huge impacts when used in excess. The Australian Guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than 2 standard drinks on any day to cut the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. However, almost 2 million Australians are drinking more than 6 standard drinks per day meaning a huge amount of us are drinking in excess.

Studies show that alcohol can lead to both short-term and long-term impacts on physical and mental health as well as social relationships, crime and work performance.

Short-Term Impacts

The impacts of alcohol can last for hours or even for a few days after drinking:

  • Reduced concentration
  • Reduced work performance
  • Blackouts
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Intense moods (e.g. elation, aggression, depression)
  • Unhealthy-looking skin: alcohol causes dehydration that can leave your skin looking dull or have break-outs.
  • Increases impulsiveness
  • Can lead to alcohol-related violence or aggression
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Impacted memory

Long-Term Impacts

  • Liver, brain or nervous system damage (irreversible)
  • Heart Disease
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Increased chance of developing a number of cancers
  • Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for a growing number of deaths either due to the physical health effects (e.g. alcohol-related violence) or the mental effects (exacerbating depression symptoms).
  • Financial consequences
  • Legal consequences if involved in alcohol-related crime
  • Lowered self-esteem

Alcohol and Mental Health

Many of us use alcohol as a coping mechanism to handle stress or difficult feelings. Alcohol can numb difficult thoughts or feelings and help us avoid the stress in the short-term. However, alcohol is a coping mechanism that can be counter-productive to long-term mental health

Alcohol can be problematic to mental health because:

  • Alcohol only gives people short-term and temporary relief. The stresses that people try to avoid by using alcohol do not get solved by drinking and so putting these off can leave them unsolved and more stressful in the long-term.
  • Alcohol can also stop people from learning how to cope with their problems more effectively.
  • Alcohol is also a depressant drug, meaning it lowers the serotonin levels in your brain which are essential in helping you regulate your mood.
  • Alcohol reduces your sleep quality by disrupting the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep you can have. Having poor sleep quality can lead to higher stress levels, making concerns or worries you had the day before seem worse.
  • Alcohol has been found to trigger or worsen symptoms of anxiety, as well as worsen symptoms of depression.
  • Alcohol can lead to social difficulties in your relationships whether it is the increasing of aggression, reducing of inhibitions, or impact of the hangover the next day on your ability to stay present in your relationships.
  • If you are taking psychiatric medication including anti-depressants, alcohol interacts adversely with the medication, which can lead to the reduce the effectiveness of the medication as well as increase the chance of side effects.
  • Alcohol also reduces inhibitions and impacts decision making, which can lead people to make impulsive decisions including increased risky behaviour, increased risk of self-harm and suicide in people who are already struggling.

It is natural to want to avoid difficult thoughts and feelings due to how unpleasant they make us feel. However, by not addressing these difficulties head-on, alcohol can only ever achieve short-term relief and lead to larger long-term difficulties. Therefore, alcohol is considered an unhealthy coping mechanism. Healthy coping mechanisms include reaching out to family and friends, seeking counselling, exercise, mindfulness, journaling, and problem-solving.

The Benefits of Going Alcohol-Free for Dry July

Given how ingrained alcohol is in our society, it is important to connect to the many benefits of having a dry month. Taking a month off alcohol can leave you enjoying: 

  • Improved quality of sleep
  • More energy and feeling awake
  • Enhanced work performance
  • Improved concentration
  • More motivation
  • Healthier skin
  • Weight loss – you can cut on average 433 calories (men) or 300 calories (women)
  • No hangovers
  • Improved mental health
  • More money – the average Australian household will save $1,664 per year without alcohol
  • Decrease fat in liver
  • Lower blood glucose

These are just a few of the many fantastic benefits an alcohol-free month can offer you.

What To Expect

When you start Dry July (or an alcohol-free period), you can notice the positive effects of no-alcohol within 12 hours of not drinking. This diagram, courtesy of Dry July, shows what you can look forward to.

Be prepared that you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you are dependent on alcohol. These are normal and will pass in time, however they can include feeling sick, sweating, anxiety, irritability, problems sleeping, or tremors. If you start feeling strong withdrawal symptoms, chat to your GP or EAP for further support about how to cut down on alcohol manageably. 

Top 10 Tips for Surviving Being Alcohol-Free (Dry July)

Giving up alcohol for a month can be difficult. Here’s our top tips to help you get through:

1. Connect to your values– Why are you doing this? Why is it important to you?

Studies show that difficult goals are much easier to accomplish if we connect consciously to the reason that we are choosing to commit to the goal in the first place. Your values are your source of motivation and a core part of who you are. Try to think about what values are important to you that motivated your decision to do Dry July e.g.:

  • Improved quality of sleep
  • More energy and feeling awake
  • Enhanced work performance
  • Improved concentration
  • More motivation
  • Healthier skin
  • Weight loss – you can cut on average 433 calories (men) or 300 calories (women)
  • No hangovers
  • Improved mental health
  • More money – the average Australian household will save $1,664 per year without alcohol
  • Decrease fat in liver
  • Lower blood glucose

2. Prepare for difficult situations 

Consider what situations might be most difficult for you over the next month of no-alcohol. Are there particular places, situations or people that might tempt you to drink? Write a list of what these might be and problem solve about how you can work around these difficulties and stick to your resolution. E.g. 

  • Avoid certain places if you think they will be difficult to not drink in
  • Take your own non-alcoholic drink and drink it out of a wine glass
  • Try alcohol-free beer or a ginger beer that will make you feel like you are having an alcoholic drink

3. Let other people know of your intentions  

Studies show that telling others about your goals means you are more likely to succeed in them. Tell your friends what you are doing and why you are doing it and ask for their support. This will mean they are less likely to try and encourage you to drink alcohol, in turn making it easier for you to stick to your commitment. 

4. Exercise  

Stay active throughout your month off alcohol to help you manage the alcohol urges and stay on track. The more you stay active and fit, the less likely you will want to break that by having a drink. In addition, exercise helps us manage stress and lift our mood which can be a useful alternative if alcohol is your main coping mechanism to manage stress.

5. Do Dry July with a Friend

Try and join a team of people to do Dry July with. Being a part of something bigger, and having people to stay accountable to, will help you feel less isolated and more motivated over your alcohol-free month. 

6. Try Mindfulness 

If alcohol is one of your main coping mechanisms for managing stress, mindfulness can be a fantastic alternative that can also increase your ability to tolerate the urges to drink that will arise. A regular mindfulness practice is linked to reduced stress, reduced anxiety levels and improved work performance. Mindfulness apps such as Calmor Headspace are both great introductions to mindfulness. 

7. Be designated driver 

If you are planning to go out where others will be drinking, choose to be the designated driver as an extra motivation to not drink. You can enjoy helping out your close friends and feeling responsible for others can increase your motivation. 

8. Reward yourself  

Giving yourself rewards each week for not drinking will mean it is more likely for you to stick to your goal. Think of how you can treat yourself each week e.g.

  • Use the money you have saved from not drinking to buy yourself something you’ve had your eye on for a while
  • Enjoy the early mornings you now have access to – e.g. go for an early morning hike or watch the sunrise
  • Plan a celebration at the end of your holiday, whether it’s a weekend away or celebration dinner with close family and friends.

9. Reflect 

While you are going through Dry July, reflect on how difficult it is for you to take a month off alcohol. Have a think about what you feel your relationship to alcohol is and what you are learning throughout this process that you can take into the future. It might be that you’d like to cut back on alcohol consumption throughout the year. If so, write down what is helpful for you in managing your urges to drink now and what you might like to keep doing. 

Tips for managing alcohol consumption in general include:

  • Drink a glass of water before, between and after alcoholic drinks
  • Aim for at least 4 alcohol-free days per week
  • Track your alcohol with a Blood Alcohol Content Calculator (BAC) such as Recoverthol

10. Get support  

Giving up alcohol can be hard. Make sure you connect to your family and friends for support and comfort in this time. In addition, talking to a counsellor through Dry July through your EAP can help you stay accountable and explore the difficulties that arise.
 
If you want to gain advice, support, or counselling about your, or someone else’s, alcohol consumption, or anything discussed in this promotional, contact Acacia Connection 24/7 for free and confidential support on 1300 364 273 or by visiting www.eapcounselling.com.au.

FINAL WORD 

Dry July is a fantastic cause that raises money for families and people struggling with cancer, while also encouraging us to make a commitment to our physical and mental health. It is an opportunity to challenge yourself to learn more about your relationship with alcohol, create a healthier lifestyle, and give to others. Why not see if you are up to the challenge? The benefits may surprise you. 

WORKSHOP:

Alcohol Awareness Workshop 
The Workshop Lab offers informative workshops to help employees understand the potentially harmful effects of alcohol on health and well-being. These sessions are delivered by experts in this field and can be delivered face-to-face or via webinar. 

Duration: 1 or 2 hours
(Alcohol and Drug Awareness Workshop also available) 

Click Here to Contact Us for more information

If you or someone close to you needs support, contact Acacia Connection for an appointment.

P: 1300 364 273 | Text or Live Chat: 0401 337 711 | W: acaciaconnection.com

"The safety and wellbeing of our clients and staff is always our top priority. Acacia EAP is currently operating under normal conditions. Due to the pandemic status of COVID-19, some locations may move from face-to-face counselling to secure video or phone. All counselling services are able to be provided 24/7, as always. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and act quickly on the advice of health authorities."