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Alcohol and Mental Health

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I have a mental illness, and I choose to drink alcohol. I know that I am certainly not alone in this boat, and I don’t necessarily think that it is a bad thing. Having a mental illness makes many aspects of life more complicated – including drinking alcohol, but it can certainly be doable if you are informed, safe, and intentional.

Know Why You Drink.

I drink beer because I love the art form of brewing. I drink beer because it smells and tastes good. I drink beer because I enjoy sharing the experience with people. I drink because sometimes I just plain like the way it makes me feel. All of these reasons are fine reasons to occasionally drink beer.

When I find myself wanting to drink because I am stressed, or because I am sad, or because I had a bad day – these are warning signs.

When I find myself wanting to drink to numb my feelings or to checkout of reality or to black out – these are MAJOR red flags.

All people, but especially people struggling with mental health, should take the time to evaluate why they drink.

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Know How Your Medication Interacts With Alcohol BEFORE You Drink.

Many people with mental health challenges are prescribed medications, or choose to self-medicate using illegal substances. Mixing both legal or illegal drugs with alcohol can be absolutely lethal. If you are on a new medication, find out how it interacts with alcohol. This can usually be done with a quick Google search. Keep in mind that even if an alcohol/drug interaction isn’t deadly, drinking could still significantly impact the drug’s effectiveness.

Don’t stop taking an antidepressant or other medication just so that you can drink. Most antidepressants require taking a consistent, daily dose to maintain a constant level in your system and work as intended. Stopping and starting your medications can make your mental health worse.1

Know Your Limit.

Everyone’s body reacts to alcohol differently. Keeping this in mind, there are a few standard things to consider:

-Smaller individuals are effected by alcohol faster than larger individuals.

-Food slows down the rate of absorption – that’s why alcohol affects you more quickly on an empty stomach.2

-Alcohol has a more severe effect on a biological female’s liver than on a biological male’s. As well as being unable to ‘break down’ alcohol as quickly, it takes longer to repair itself when damaged.3

-National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that men should not exceed 4 drinks per day or a total of 14 per week and women should not to exceed 3 drinks a day or a total of 7 per week.4

-Alcohol affects you in a way that changes your judgement, depth perception, as well as vital motor skills required to drive safely. It’s easy to think you are driving normally when truly you are not.5

-Give alcohol-free days a-go. If you drink regularly, your body starts to build up a tolerance to alcohol. This is why many medical experts recommend taking regular days off from drinking to ensure you don’t become addicted to alcohol.6

Know the Facts.

-Regular drinking lowers the levels of serotonin in your brain – a chemical that helps regulate your mood.6

-People with bipolar disorder turn to alcohol in an attempt to quiet their symptoms, especially manic symptoms.7

-Extreme levels of drinking can occasionally cause psychosis. Psychotic symptoms can also occur when very heavy drinkers suddenly stop drinking and develop a condition known as ‘delirium tremens’.6

-More than one-third of suicide victims used alcohol just prior to death.8

-Nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.9

-In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths (31 percent of overall driving fatalities).9

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Get Help.

This applies to all people, but is especially pertinent to people with a mental illness: You should control your drinking, your drinking should not control you.

If you are starting to feel out of control of your drinking, if the idea of going a day alcohol-free seems impossible, or the symptoms of your mental illness are getting worse – get help. Talk to your doctor, or seek other professional help. Additionally, here are some resources for individuals challenged with a mental illness or who need help controlling their alcohol intake:

Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 from anywhere in the USA.
Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to free, 24/7 support and information.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org/
If you are concerned with a drinking problem, wish to learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous or want to find A.A. near you, we can help you.

Sources:

¹ http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressants-and-alcohol/faq-20058231

2 http://www.knowyourlimits.info/know%E2%80%A6-how-alcohol-works

3 http://www.knowyourlimits.info/know%E2%80%A6-about-women-and-alcohol

4 https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

5 http://www.quitalcohol.com/dangers-of-drinking-and-driving.html

6 https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-and-mental-health/

7 http://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-and-alcohol#Bipolardisorder1

8 http://www.mces.org/pages/suicide_fact_alcohol.php

9 https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics


I want to say that I am writing from a personal perspective. I believe that there is a social stigma surrounding mental health, and I feel the best way to challenge this stigma is to talk about my experience. I am faced with multiple mental health obstacles, perhaps the most challenging being major depressive disorder and hypomanic episodes. I have gone through counseling and therapy, I have tried many types of medicine, I have been through inpatient treatment at a psych hospital, I have participated in multiple wonderful partial hospitalization programs, I have experienced success, I have experienced progress, and I have experienced failure. I know people challenged by mental health, and I have lost people to their mental health. What I’m writing about today is one perspective, my own, and in no way do I mean to offend or step on anyone’s toes – I merely wish to share my thoughts in hope of helping and informing others.

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