depressive thoughts and alcohol

There is a direct link between drinking alcohol and an increase in depressive thoughts. How many of us automatically reach for a drink when things are not going so well or after a particularly hard day at work? Many of us are unaware that drinking alcohol is one of the worst choices we can make when we are tired or unhappy. In this COVID-19 crisis, many are turning to alcohol to ease their anxiety and suffering.

People who are experiencing a mental health difficulty may use alcohol to try and manage hard times or lift their mood.  But alcohol is itself a depressant, it slows your body down and changes the chemical makeup in your brain.

Drinking alcohol alters your mood, concentration, energy levels, memory levels and sleeping patterns. It also impacts on your decision-making where things that you would typically do when you’re sober suddenly become foremost in your thoughts. Alcohol also increases aggression and risky behaviour. It has a powerful effect on your negative thoughts when you are going through a tough time to increase self-harming practices and suicidal thoughts.

Frequent or heavy alcohol use can increase these effects, especially the impact on mood, and the ability to cope with tough times, and lead to an increase in depressive thoughts.

Alcohol and Mental Health Problems are Toxic

For people with mental health problems, regular use of alcohol increases their symptoms.  Remember, 1 in 5 people experience an issue with their mental health every year,  with over 500,000 Australians will experience depression and a substance use disorder at the same time, at some point in their lives.

The link between alcohol use and depressive thoughts is high. People who regularly drink are twice as likely to develop major depression and other mental health problems such as anxiety. While alcohol consumption may bring some relief from anxiety or stress in the short-term, it can worsen anxiety in the longer term, especially with binge drinking over two days or more, and when the drinker becomes alcohol dependent. In many cases, your mood will lift considerably after a few weeks of abstinence from alcohol.

See our article, Depression Symptoms Rise When You Work Long Hours.

Alcohol Use Can make Symptoms Worse

People with mental health problems such as anxiety or depressive disorders are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependency with regular use.

There is also a high correlation between alcohol dependence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many veterans report drinking above low-risk levels to cope with the symptoms of PTSD; however, drinking above low-risk levels will compromise the treatment of PTSD and increase their depressive thoughts.

People who are depressed and sometimes drink excessively are at much higher risk of self-harm and suicide, especially if they also drink regularly above guideline levels. Alcohol may also interfere with the effectiveness of antidepressant medication.

Finally, alcohol can cause disrupted sleep. Even one or two drinks may result in reduced sleep quality and early morning waking, and disruption of sleep can be a trigger for a variety of mental health problems. Regularly disruption of sleep may also lead to long-term fatigue and a risk to physical safety.

What Can Workplaces Do?

With 1 in 5 people experiencing issues with their mental health each year, this means 20% of your employees are at risk. In the COVID-19 emergency with many employees working from home,  worried that they may lose their job, contract the virus or lose a loved one, it is not unexpected that their alcohol use will increase. An increase in alcohol consumption can lead to serious health problems down the track and negatively impact their mental health.

Take a look at your training activities. It’s a good idea to provide education on the effects of alcohol on mental health. We often miss the link between alcohol use and depressive thoughts because we may look to drink to improve our mood.

A simple way to educate about the effects on alcohol and how it can increase depressive thoughts is to use online training platforms like Tap into Safety.  The platform has several microlearning modules on Depressive Thoughts and Alcohol Use, Self-Hard and Suicidal Thoughts and Stress, Anxiety and Depression Symptoms.

Random drug and alcohol testing to determine Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is another practice that employers can use to deter alcohol use. This is particularly important if an employee could kill or seriously injure themselves, another worker or a member of the public.

See our article, Introducing Mental Health Programs for Business.

Moderating or Controlling Personal Alcohol Use

Every person should consider the impact of using alcohol on their health and mental health, especially if prone to depressive thoughts or drinking regularly. A good place to start is to reduce the amount you use and how often. When thinking about your mental health, BeyondBlue suggests that you should:

  • Try not to drink when you are feeling down or anxious.
  • Avoid keeping alcohol in the house.
  • Spend time with friends and family members who do not drink alcohol.
  • Take yourself out of situations where you know you will drink excessively.
  • Not drink alone, and if you want to drink, try to limit drinking to meal times.
  • Choose drinks with low alcohol content, or alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones.
  • Drink slowly – limit yourself to one drink per hour.
  • Let your friends and family know you are trying to cut down and ask for their support.
  • Try exercise, meditation or doing things you enjoy to tackle stress and anxiety rather than drinking.

To Conclude

Many people like a drink to increase their mood, but don’t realise that alcohol can do the exact opposite. Drinking alcohol increases depressive thoughts, especially for people with mental health issues.  Every year 20% of people will experience a mental health issue, and 500,000 Australians will have depression and a substance use disorder at the same time in their lifetime.

The problem is serious. Organisations need to think about how they support the use of alcohol in their workplaces, train about the impact that alcohol has on mental health and use drug and alcohol testing especially if an employee could kill or seriously injure themselves, another worker or a member of the public. In this COVID-19 crisis is it not an unexpected prediction that your employees will consume more alcohol which can lead to serious health and mental health issues in the future.

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