Alcohol is one of the most readily available poisons in the world. We have it over the counter at various restaurants. We can get it in bars and so much so, there are innumerable, dedicated shops that sell this poison and that too in a variety of potency levels. It seems bizarre when I put it this way but there are many people that see it like this. It has become a cultural indicator of a place. It is so deeply embedded in our songs, movies and other forms of art. There are many understandable critiques of this new culture but that remains a different issue. It also ends up becoming a major factor or influencer of an individual’s mental health. Let us see how.
Alcohol & Mental Health
There have been various studies that look into the relationship between mental illnesses and alcohol problems. Fifteen to 20 per cent of people with mental illness have substance use problems. Of those diagnosed with generalized anxiety, 50% have substance use problems. The question that now arises is why is alcohol abuse and presence of a mental disorder so closely related? There are 3 major theories.
The first theory says that people who have a genetic predisposition to mental illness are also vulnerable to alcohol abuse. Also people who have mental illnesses and alcohol addiction often face stigma from the society which marginalizes them. This may lead to co-morbidity where it wasn’t present initially.
The second theory says that people who are mentally ill are more sensitive to the same amounts of alcohol. Since alcohol and mental illnesses act on the same part of the brain i.e. the amygdala and hippocampus, this theory does make sense. The third theory says that ill people take alcohol as a form of self-medication which provides temporary relief from stress. They do not self-medicate to cure a mental illness, but to combat the suffering, sadness it causes.
A Vicious Cycle
As we just said, people take alcohol as a form of self medication. There is one major problem with this though. A small amount of it may bring short-term stress relief, but it does not treat any of the causes of the stress. Over the long term, people who self-medicate need increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to obtain the required level of dopamine to feel the psychological benefits. This can create a habit, which could lead to increased drinking that could turn into dependence. A person with a mental illness who becomes dependent on alcohol is then caught in a vicious cycle in which each problem sustains and even aggravates the other (Alcohol and Mental Illness, Alberta Health Services).
This vicious cycle is deadly and is likely to make people more impulsive and strain the relationships with close ones. These two effects are devastating for an individual and can increase the chances of suicide.
The one thing people turn to in tough times for salvation, ends up being their damnation.
Consuming alcohol is a choice but it is important that we make this choice after considering its possible consequences. When I was depressed, there were many times when I thought about turning to beers or other drinks to relieve my pain for a while. I always stopped myself by thinking of what consequences it could have. I had heard of many stories of people becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol and that was a road that really scared me.
I did have some drinks but they were very few and far between. Moreover I specially ordered the drinks I didn’t like a lot. This was to ensure that even if I felt relief, I would turn away from another round because of the taste. There are other ways to fight addiction as well like tapering off the alcohol intake rather than stopping it abruptly. You may choose the one that suits you most but until then it is important that you know that alcohol is a cursed solution. It will trap you in with temporary relief but then take you to depths of pain that you cannot imagine.