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Drinking as a way of handling stress, nerves, feeling down or anxious is common. What many people don’t realise is that alcohol has a negative impact on your mental wellbeing, so drinking can create a vicious circle of feeling bad.
Alcohol is a depressant
Drinking alcohol causes changes in your brain chemistry. That’s why we feel more relaxed and confident after a drink: the parts of the brain that drive feelings like self-consciousness are dampened or ‘depressed’. However, this also means that other parts of the brain become depressed too, which can lead to poor decision-making and negative emotions. These effects are often short-lived but regular drinking can have a long-term impact on your mental health too.
While many of us drink to relieve stress or anxiety, it really has the opposite effect. Because our brain processes begin to shut off, our ability to see what’s going on around us becomes limited. We might focus on one specific aspect of a situation that is threatening (such as seeing a partner talking to someone we don’t like) and filter out the neutral aspects (such as the partner chatting with all sorts of other friends too throughout the evening).
This process can make situations turn bad when we drink: we may become highly emotional, aggressive or more prone to risk-taking. The next day, the effects continue as alcohol will still be in your system if you’ve had a lot to drink. These feelings of depressed mood, tiredness or anxiety could trigger the urge to drink again: a vicious cycle begins, and your stress hasn’t been eased.
Good sleep is vital for physical and mental wellbeing. Its common to reach for a drink to sleep better, but while a glass of wine may help you nod off, even small amounts of alcohol will make the quality of your sleep poorer. Ever woken up after drinking and felt like you haven’t slept at all? This is because alcohol disturbs your sleep cycle and you spend less time in the deep stage of sleep that’s needed to feel well-rested. Then there’s the fact that drinking will make you need to get up and visit the toilet: a sure way to guarantee a disturbed night’s sleep.
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