How does drinking affect your mental health?

I can distinctly remember several times when I woke up after a night of drinking to feelings of pure panic, fear, and overwhelming sadness. I am a naturally anxious person, and I used to think that drinking helped to calm me down. However, what it was actually doing was temporarily masking my anxiety. Once the alcohol wore off, my anxiety was always 10 times worse! I can remember sobbing in the middle of the night after waking up with adrenaline coursing through my veins. I remember fretting over everything I may have said or done while I was drinking the night before. I had regular panic attacks when I was a drinker, too. I was miserable 90% of the time. It was absolutely hellish!  

I was also chronically depressed when I was a drinker. I would cry daily over completely unimportant stuff and I felt generally sad most of the time. I could never pinpoint exactly why. I just felt sad. I was prescribed an antidepressant to help with this, but I almost never remembered to take it and when I did it was usually along with a bottle of wine, so it didn’t help me very much. After I got sober and started taking my antidepressant like I was supposed to, I stopped crying all the time, which was nothing short of miraculous for me. I also started feeling much happier in general. I still have bad days, but they are a lot less common since I stopped drinking, whereas being stuck in my alcohol addiction was like one never-ending bad day!

So how exactly does drinking affect your mental health?

I had honestly never researched this question before writing this blog post. I always knew that drinking affected my mental health in negative ways, but I never really knew how much. It turns out there are a lot of negative mental health effects associated with drinking alcohol. Some of the effects I learned about include:

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Worsening of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Drinking alcohol can also contribute to cognitive issues, such as poor memory, lack of concentration, unclear thinking, lack of interest in learning new things, and even personality changes.1 That last one stands out to me the most because I am a totally different person when I am drinking! When I am sober, I am generally reserved, polite, friendly, calm, and positive. But when I drink I become an uninhibited, crude, anxious, moody person. It’s so bizarre and I don’t like who I become at all.

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Increased chance of aggression and/or violence. Since drinking lowers your inhibitions, people who drink are more likely to become aggressive. This may lead you to get into arguments with your loved ones, pick a fight with a stranger, or even lash out in violence against yourself. Plain and simple, drinking makes me fight with my husband. We used to argue all the time when I was drinking, especially after I’d had too much to drink. Now that I’m sober, I could count the number of arguments we’ve had on one hand, and they were much less intense. We often used to end our arguments by going into separate rooms to cool off and then just changing the topic. The last argument we had was resolved after about 10 minutes of calm conversation. It’s a massive change due to alcohol being out of our lives.

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Reduced resilience in stressful situations. When you’re drinking, your body and mind are less capable of handling stressful situations. You may become flustered more easily or lose your composure when faced with a difficult situation. I saw this in my daily life when I would absolutely fall apart over the dumbest things. I couldn’t handle anything stressful without a major meltdown. I am amazed at how calm I am now when faced with a crisis! I’ve done a complete 180 in that regard.

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Poor sleep. Sleep is essential for proper physical and mental functioning, but drinking regularly makes it hard if not impossible to get enough good, restful sleep. I had trouble sleeping more than 5-6 hours per night when I was a drinker because I’d wake up feeling so anxious and then I couldn’t ever get back to sleep once I was up. I got caught in that cycle for a long time and it wore me down. I always felt tired. Thankfully, once you stop drinking, sleep does begin to improve. I sleep about 8 hours every night now and I wake up feeling rested and energized every morning. It’s definitely one of my favorite aspects of sobriety.2

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Antisocial behaviors. Alcohol has been noted to cause people to withdraw socially.3 Before my drinking really took off, I was already lonely. I worked in a job that involved very little collaboration or interaction with other people, I had recently moved to a new city, and I was alone a lot when I was at home. Instead of trying to make friends or looking for healthy ways to fill my time, I drank more. Isolated me further because I kept repeating the same cycle. Pick up a couple bottles of wine on the way home from work, go home, drink, pass out, muddle through the day with a punishing hangover, and them do it all over again!

My takeaway: Clearly, alcohol can produce a wide range of negative effects on mental health, so it seems like stopping drinking would automatically improve things. But everyone is different and, although I believe that stopping drinking can make life significantly more pleasant and easier, you may still face challenges. You may experience more severe mental health effects from drinking than I did, or you may not really have even noticed them. The changes in mental health after getting sober can also vary greatly from person to person. For example, I continued to experience a ton of anxiety in my first month of sobriety and I had to work really hard to develop new coping mechanisms to deal with it. But once I did, my anxiety improved and now I can handle my anxious thoughts much better.

One thing I know for sure from my experience is that my mental health suffers when I drink and improves when I don’t drink. And since I have struggled with anxiety and depression since childhood, it doesn’t make any sense for me to drink alcohol. Not one tiny bit! It’s an act of self-harm for me to take even a single drink. I am only setting myself up for pain. The more I look back at how I was, the clearer this becomes.

I’d love to hear some of your experiences! What effects do you think drinking has on your mental health? What changes have you noticed in sobriety?

Thank you so much for stopping by! 🙂

“One thing I know for sure from my experience is that my mental health suffers when I drink and improves when I don’t drink.”

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