How does alcohol affect your mental health?
Alcohol impacts our physical and mental health in lots of different ways. First up, it’s a diuretic; meaning it makes you pee more and can dehydrate you. Why is this important? Well, it turns out being dehydrated is a lot more common than you think: It’s thought that three-quarters of Americans are dehydrated and dehydration is often worse in people with poor mental health. This is because those who have a low or poor mood may often neglect basic tasks such as eating and drinking. There are also certain health conditions – such as diabetes or digestive issues – which put you more at risk of dehydration too.
If you’re already at risk of dehydration, alcohol may worsen the problem. Some studies have found a link between how hydrated you are and anxiety. One found that drinking more water and being more hydrated decreases your risk of anxiety.
But why else might alcohol not be ideal for your mental health? Well, anxiety also impacts your blood sugar levels.
“It can cause drops in blood sugar, which leads to adrenaline and cortisol being released; creating some feelings of anxiety,” explains Nutritionist Hannah Hope.
Ever find you have less of a hangover if you drink with a full meal? Well, this is why. If you’re going to drink, it’s often recommended to drink a glass of alcohol with a full meal to help slow this blood sugar release down.
What about if a glass of wine or a few beers is your go-to for feeling more relaxed? It does help reduce the time it takes us to actually fall asleep but this relaxed feeling doesn’t always last for very long; and we may then feel more anxious after the alcohol wears off.
“Initially, you may feel relaxed as alcohol is a sedative and you can feel that anxiety levels have dropped, but Alcohol can change levels of serotonin and anxiety can feel worse after you have stopped drinking it,” explains nutritionist Hannah Hope. Whilst you might drift off more quickly, you might notice a more restless night, since alcohol can also cause you to wake up more often.
A big problem arises when people then try to drink more alcohol (and even become dependent) to stop their anxious feelings.