I'll Drink To That, Or Maybe Not...

By Terry Streather | Mental Health

Nov 22

Common mental disorders like anxiety and depression affect 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men.

It may be tempting therefore to suggest that men are just tougher- women more fragile and delicate. Problem is, it’s over simplistic, not true and more than a little offensive.

You see those stats only present half of the story. I found some others which might help fill in the gaps…like men being three times as likely than women to take their own lives, and twice as likely to be alcohol or drug dependant.

Now that’s interesting.

It’s a generalisation I know, but I wonder, do men seek comfort in a bottle/illicit substances rather than friends and medical professionals? 9% of men apparently show signs of alcohol dependence.

Monday 19th November sees the start of yet another awareness week, and this one is all about Alcohol. Of course, both men and women can be alcohol dependant, but in line with the Movember theme, I wanted to keep banging the drum about men.

Now the last thing I want to do is come across all Grinch/Scrooge like as we approach the festive season, and there is certainly no judgement from me when it comes to raising the occasional glass or two to unwind and celebrate. But some things do need to be said.

While alcohol can temporarily improve our mood, and provide an excuse or backdrop for social interaction, it is linked to a range of issues. These include anxiety, depression and memory loss. And even suicide.

Alcohol on the brain

There’s a huge repository of scientific research behind alcohol and its impact on our wellbeing. The UK charity ‘Drinkaware’ explains some of it quite well, pointing out that the brain relies on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. As a depressant, alcohol disrupts that balance. This affects our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health.

For some, it makes them feel more confident and less anxious – because it starts to depress the part of the brain we associate with inhibition. Increase that intake and more of the brain is affected. With high alcohol levels, negative emotional responses can take over. The street outside almost any pub or nightclub will bear witness to that!

There are very clear links between stress (and depression) and alcohol. In Britain, anxiety or depression sufferers are twice as likely to be heavy or problem drinkers. For some, the anxiety came first with alcohol as a relief. For others, the drinking was first and caused the anxiety. In either case, heavy drinking can affect relationships, judgement and performance at work. That’s a recipe for depression.

Self-harm & suicide

It gets worse. Alcohol can make people lose their inhibitions and behave impulsively, so it can lead them to take actions they might otherwise have not countenanced. Okay, that’s not exactly breaking news, but those actions can include self-harm and suicide. And that’s bad news.

According to NHS Scotland, more than half the people who ended up in hospital because they’d deliberately injured themselves said they had drunk alcohol immediately before or while doing it.

It’s just a nightcap…purely medicinal. Oh really?

In his book “Why We Sleep”, Matthew Walker explains that alcohol does not help us drift off into a dream like state. Quite the opposite in fact.

He explains that as a sedative alcohol acts more like an anaesthetic, causing fragmented sleep (where you wake up frequently without even knowing), and depriving you of essential restorative sleep phases like REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Not enough REM sleep leads to serious mental ill health, including hallucinations and delusions. If you want to scare yourself witless, I can’t recommend his book highly enough.

One for the road…is that ok?

No. Sorry. According to ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) 200 people die as a result of drink driving, and 70,000 people are prosecuted, every year in the UK.

85% of those convicted are men.

Not sure I need to say anymore about that.

So what do we do about it?

I like the Drinkaware slogan too: ‘Have a little less. Feel a lot better’. Good advice!

We know that change is possible. A great place to start is our own lives. Are you drinking too much? Only you can change that. Every year, millions of people take the decision to drink less, drink more healthily, or stop altogether. That changes their lives and the lives of those around them.

And there is help to do it. Great practice is happening in alcohol and addiction treatment across the UK, backed by support organisations campaigning for system-wide change to ensure that fewer people are harmed by alcohol.

There’s more information on the mental health impact of alcohol on the Drinkaware website. It’s worth taking a look, especially the short videos.

So as I close, a question… are you drinking to have a good time, or make something go away?

Where to find support

The NHS also offers guidance on where to find support, including links to regional support resources.

There’s also a useful intake calculator on the Alcohol Concern website to help people keep track of their drinking. It also estimates the cost of the drinks and the number of calories consumed.

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About the Author

Terry is Director and Head of Training at Oakwood. He helps clients promote a proactive, rather than reactive approach to both personal safety and the positive mental health of their staff. He has over 12 years teaching experience in these areas, and advises organisations in the development of appropriate risk assessment and policy.