It’s virtually impossible, at least it is here in Australia these days, to attend any social occasion or particularly any celebratory event without the overwhelming presence of alcohol. Australians love a drink, arguably a bit too much. “Eastern European” countries (e.g. Russia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic) take out almost all of the top ten positions but Australian comes in at number 10 in global rankings. This isn’t necessarily something about which we should be proud.
Don’t get me wrong, alcohol isn’t all bad. A drink or two can be relaxing and pleasurable; adding an extra quality to a good meal or a fun social occasion. You’ll find no argument from me, or from most health professionals, against mild and reasonable drinking levels.
The problem, however, is that many people don’t know what appropriate levels of alcohol consumption are. Excessive drinking has become so much the norm that extreme consumption doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for many; it’s just what they’ve always seen and what they’ve become used to.
This is worrying; because excessive alcohol consumption can have many serious negative consequences. It increases risk of motor vehicle accidents, physical injuries, fighting and domestic violence. Long term use can also have serious physical side-effects, particularly on the liver and brain. And in the context of this article, it can (especially for some who’re susceptible) markedly impact on the mental health of individuals.
Now it should first be noted that like many things in life, alcohol will affect different people differently. Further, many people can drink at mild, or even moderate levels without experiencing any noticeable impact on their mental or physical health. At the same time, however, many of the negative consequences are subtle and become problematic slowly and gradually. A sensible approach, therefore, is to take action sooner rather than later and seek a professional assessment or opinion if you have any concerns at all.
Taking this into account, although alcohol appears to have a positive impact initially, and it can be fun and cause an improvement in mood in the very short term, over the medium to longer term it affects brain chemistry; and not in a good way. Alcohol disrupts the balance of neurotransmitters which can cause depression, anxiety and even anger and irritability.
Along the lines of that already noted, although alcohol can have an immediate calming effect, over time it can actually increase stress and anxiety. Similarly, despite many people thinking alcohol makes them sleepy, and despite the fact many people will fall asleep faster after a few drinks, excessive consumption disrupts the quality of sleep ultimately leading to tiredness (part, obviously, of what we call the “hangover”) which can then exacerbate depression and stress. When we’re tired, we tend not to cope with challenges as well and so a vicious cycle can develop leading to worsening mental health.
Ultimately, we’ll thrive and flourish and enjoy better mental health more easily if we get as close to peak healthy living as we can. None of us will do this 100% perfectly but reducing alcohol intake for many of us will indubitably help. Awareness and education can help, as can some knowledge about how to minimise risks and change behaviour. For more information you might like to visit the Beyond Blue website.
So, enjoy a drink; if that gives you some pleasure. But be mindful of the recommended safe levels and be aware also, that there are alternatives. And as they say at Hello Sunday Morning, drinking should be a choice, not an expectation.