Alcohol addiction and mental illness often go hand in hand. In fact, many people who attend rehab for alcohol addiction often get diagnosed with a dual diagnosis – that is, they’re suffering from an addiction as well as from a mental health concern.
Understanding which came first, however, is like asking whether the chicken came before the egg – it’s a difficult thing to decipher.
Do people drink to escape their mental health concerns, or do they suffer mental illness as a consequence of drink?
In this blog, we try to tackle this question and determine whether alcohol addiction does in fact cause mental illness.
What does alcohol do to the brain?
86.3 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime.
It is the most common drug consumed by the public today. But, while alcohol is socially acceptable, in the wrong quantities it can do a lot of damage.
Over time, alcohol starts to disrupt brain chemicals (known as neurotransmitters), which interfere with things like the hormone system, the nervous system and more.
As a person continues to drink excessive quantities of alcohol, the body’s chemical makeup changes shape entirely. For instance, alcohol may:
Interfere with the absorption of vitamin B1 (thiamine), which is an important brain nutrient.
Result in changes to metabolism, heart functioning, and blood supply.
Have a toxic effect on the central nervous system (CNS).
Can lead to falls and accidents that injure the brain.
Consequently, a dependence to alcohol can be disastrous to a person’s mental health.
Without a properly functioning central nervous system (and without vitamin B1), a person can become more vulnerable to psychiatric concerns like stress, anxiety and depression.
How does this affect mental health?
The hormonal and nervous systems form the basis of mental wellness. By creating an imbalance with alcohol consumption, a person’s psyche begins to change, and mental health issues can form.
These psychiatric symptoms are contingent on the dependence of alcohol, and also how vulnerable a person was when they consumed alcohol.
On the contrary, if an alcoholic decides to stave off alcohol, it can also cause a hormonal imbalance. Because an alcoholic depends on alcohol for regular hormonal functioning, removing alcohol entirely will limit this hormonal production, which can lead to dips in things like endorphins and dopamine.
Without these two chemicals, people can easily slip into depression and low self-esteem.
But was the mental illness there before the alcohol was?
It’s a tough question to answer. Many people begin drinking for fun. In the right quantities, it’s a harmless recreational activity.
However, others turn to alcohol by means of escaping hardship they may face in their life.
In the latter instance, it’s likely that mental illness pre-exists alcohol dependence.
Financial difficulty, relationship troubles and job loss can all trigger feelings of depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and stress. To handle these mental health concerns, people begin to rely on the euphoric feelings associated with drinking alcohol.
However, mental health concerns can occur with alcoholism, too. These are conditional to how dependent a person is to alcohol.
Like many other drugs, withdrawal symptoms can arise in an alcoholic, which mimic common mental health conditions that may have existed prior to addiction.
The saving grace with alcoholism and mental health
There is one saving factor with alcoholism and mental health, however.
With the right professional help, a person who overcomes their alcohol addiction for good will begin to see improvements in their mental health, too.
Even if mental health issues pre-existed an alcohol addiction, the problems faced by an alcoholic are often caused because of alcohol itself.
The challenge, then, is finding an accredited, trustworthy and expert facility where each person is treated holistically, both for their addiction and for their mental health condition.
This gives an addict the best chance of regaining control over their mental health and conquering their addiction for good. Only then can someone successfully turn a corner into a happier, healthier life.
It’s quite normal to have a glass or two of wine or a couple of beers to wind down at the end of a day… or is it?
Doesn’t everyone do this – or could it be that you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol.
First off, it doesn’t matter who the person is in terms of status, job, background or age. Anyone can get taken by the grip of alcohol when such as “just one drink” is always more than one.
Secondly, it is not so simple as looking at the frequency or amount that you or someone else you’re concerned about drinks.
It’s mostly to do with how it affects you or the person who drinks.
However, having a drink every day is definitely something that should be looked into as it’s not what is considered normal drinking. It could reveal that there is a drink problem.
Some honest detective work can show up a lot about someone’s drinking. That is to see if it’s merely a social relaxer or a troublesome – and sometimes fatal – habit.
Questions to ask
Ask yourself these questions, or put yourself in the place of someone who you think might well be drinking too much – and answer yes or no.
Are the other people you drink with also regular and/or heavy drinkers?
Do you ever say that you’re not harming anyone else with your drinking?
Are you envious of others who seem to drink but without it causing them any problems?
Do you wish people would stay out of your business about your drinking – it’s your life isn’t it and shouldn’t they stop trying to tell you what to do?
Have you had any problems connected with drinking during the past year?
Has your drinking caused trouble at home, such as with your partner or your children?
Have you called in “sick” to avoid going to work or school/college lots of times?
Have you switched types of drink in the hope this will stop you from getting drunk?
Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking, or what you say or do after a few drinks?
Are there times you cannot recall such as a call you made or how you got into bed?
Do you drink alone at home? In secret?
Do you drink in bars with reputations as somewhere for big drinkers?
Do you go to places you wouldn’t go if you’d not had a drink or if you didn’t want to drink?
Did you ever drive a vehicle after drinking more than you should?
Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time, but then you keep getting drunk?
Do you drink every day?
Can you stop drinking and stay stopped for any good amount of time, whatever happens?
Do you ever say something like: “You’d drink too if that happened to you.”?
Have you ever had a drink to calm your nerves or stop shaking when you wake up?
Do you ask yourself why you drink so much?
If you answered yes to even a few of these questions, you or whoever you are concerned about due to their drinking very likely has a problem.
But how do I know if I’m alcoholic or just that I drink too much?
It’s a very good question, and ultimately only one you or whoever is the drinker can answer.
This is because it’s much about what is going on inside: how much a drink is craved, how often it is thought about, what the effect is when one is taken?
Ask, do you think your life would be better if you didn’t drink as much?
For many people who are drinking every day, at the very least it might be causing physical harm, certainly in the long-term – so for that reason alone, it would be better to cut down or quit.
Then, consider if the daily drinking really solves anything or is it just that what needs to be solved in work or life dilemmas simply pile up.
Drinking will often lead to an unsatisfactory sleep. So that combined with grogginess from alcohol in the system makes for impaired thinking and less capability at decision-making come the morning.
Many people know that drinking less would be better for them and those around them. Perhaps it’s buried deep down, but they know… Yet they cannot imagine life any more either with or without alcohol – and this is a sure sign of a problem, a strong indicator of alcoholism.
One other big sign is that you can relate to what many people in recovery from alcoholism say: that the alcohol is in the bottle but the -ism stands for InSide Me or I Sabotage Myself.
Does your way of thinking mean you have a mind that’s like a washing machine on fast spin and it drives you crazy? To the point that you really crave or convince yourself that you need a drink…
Then do you think, whether you’ve had a drink or not, that you are all too often self-sabotaging. Such as you quit a job or do something that leaves your employer with no choice but to fire you… Then find yourself without any money.
Or walk out on a partner who obviously loves you lots and who is a kind person… Then regret it and wonder why.
So although the answer to the question about whether you or someone you care about is an alcoholic is one that only you or they can really admit, there are compelling points to consider.
Guidance from an expert in alcoholism is something that will undoubtedly be valuable. Then if there is an issue, there is first-rate help available.
As many people who once had a problem with drink but who are now living sober lives will tell you: there is a solution.
For more information about how we can help you or anyone you care about who possibly has a drinking problem, contact us today.