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Alcohol and our mental health – when does it become an issue?

People will often reach for a drink when they need cheering up or just want to unwind and there is nothing wrong with that. Alcohol becomes an issue when that drink you have in your hand is really masking your feelings.

Whether you feel under pressure from work, stressed about money and bills or you suffer from anxiety or depression, alcohol should not be the solution or a distraction.

While alcohol has a temporarily positive impact on our moods, in the long run it can have a major effect on our mental wellbeing. Alcohol is linked to a wide range of mental health issues like depression, the development of dementia and suicide.

Alcohol is a depressant. And if someone is already feeling low then drinking alcohol will only make it worse – it’s a vicious cycle.

Our brains are balanced by chemicals and processes which alcohol, as a depressant, will disrupt. This disruption can affect our thoughts and actions as much as it affects our feelings. That relaxed feeling you get after one drink is because the alcohol has triggered a chemical change in your brain. But when you continue to drink more and more this effect becomes much stronger and can go either way.

For people dealing with anxiety or depression, alcohol can be very damaging. When you look at the level of suicides in Ireland that show alcohol use as a contributory factor, it is worrying. The number of self-harm presentations at hospitals all over Ireland typically increases during holiday periods.

There is an internal pressure in society about how Christmas should be for everyone. There is a big difference between the images and portrayals of Christmas on TV than the realities. And people can feel isolated or under pressure about the way they should be spending their Christmas.

Expert tips – how to cut back or avoid alcohol and mind your mental health

Know that it is okay to say no
It’s really important to know that if you are drinking you don’t have to have more than one or if everyone around you is drinking you can say no.

Take it slow
If you do drink – take your time. Maybe get one drink and sip it very slowly for the night rather than drinking it fast and getting another.

Be prepared
For anyone trying to drink less or someone struggling with an alcohol problem, Christmas can be difficult with all the parties and social situations. If you know you are going to be in a place where you will be offered alcohol and you’re not comfortable then rather than isolating yourself and not going, plan your excuses in advance. While this may seem slightly misleading – it will provide you with the comfort that you need because giving up alcohol is not easy.

Stick to your daily routine
Structure is very important for everyone but especially for people with mental health issues it can be a great way to maintain balance.

Do not isolate yourself
Giving up alcohol is not easy but it is doable and you are never alone. If you don’t feel like going to the parties because of the alcohol, that is fine but do connect with people, don’t cut yourself off. Call your friends and family and go for coffee and a chat.

Talk to someone
If it all gets too much and it feels like everything is on top of you then talk to someone. Do not turn to alcohol. Talking is the best option every time. If you would rather not talk to family or friends you can always call the Samaritans on 116 123.

Take that first step
Forming a new habit begins with taking a new step. Don’t wait until January 1st. Take that step today.

How can friends and family help a loved one struggling with alcohol this Christmas?

Leading by example is one of the best things you can do for someone who is struggling with alcohol issues. And be careful about who you are offering alcohol to. If you know this person is trying to quit then don’t tempt them or encourage them to be more social. And be there to listen. Christmas is a hard time to confront your demons no matter what they are so to have someone their to listen can be a huge help

www.drinkaware.ie

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