We have all gotten sick at some point in our lives, and when this happens, whether it is a common cold or a serious illness, we do everything we can in order to get better again. If the situation calls for it, we go to the doctor and get medical treatment. We follow the doctor’s recommendations in order to receive the best care and recover faster. When a friend or family member is feeling under the weather, we take care of them because we understand how they feel.
When it comes to mental health, it’s a different story. We tend to take our mental health for granted, and sometimes even stigmatize those who have a mental illness. Maybe we haven’t quite realized that our mental health is just as important as our physical health.
I struggled with alcohol and drug addiction since I was a teenager. All through my adolescence I experimented with different drugs and abused alcohol. I also suffered from mental illnesses like severe anxiety and depression, but I didn’t think there was a connection with my addiction.
When I was in my 20s I decided to get clean. During recovery, my mind and body went through a lot of changes, one of them is not feeling anxiety or depression anymore, and that’s when I realized there was a correlation between my alcohol and drug abuse and my mental illness.
I have been sober for 9 years now, and, having suffered from mental illnesses for a very long time, I now understand how important it is to take care of all parts of one’s well-being. That’s why I want to share 5 ways in which alcohol and drugs can affect your mental health.
1. Alcohol In Your Brain
The correct functioning of your brain depends on a series of complex chemical processes. Alcohol works as a depressant, and drinking it, even if it’s only a little bit, disrupts the balance of these chemicals, called neurotransmitters. This is the main reason why we feel less inhibited and less anxious when we drink because alcohol depresses the part of the brain associated with inhibition. But as you drink more, more parts of your brain become affected. It can even get to the point in which you no longer feel pleasure and relaxation and become aggressive, angry, or depressed.
2. Drugs In Your Brain
Just like alcohol, drugs alter your brain’s chemistry. Depending on the type of drug, it affects a different part of the brain and you get different effects which are mostly related to pleasure, but drugs usually bring side effects as well, some of which can be permanent. For example, studies at the National Institute on Drug Abuse state that consuming marijuana as a teenager can affect the development of the areas of the brain related to memory and learning. Long-term heroin use can deteriorate the brain’s white matter, which will negatively affect how a person regulates emotions, reacts to stress and makes decisions.
3. Alcohol Can Increase Stress
We often use alcohol as a way of coping with our daily stress. There’s nothing wrong with having a drink with your friends after a long week every once in a while, but the problem is when you start needing a drink every time you face a stressful situation. Even though you feel good and can forget about your troubles while you’re drunk, this feeling only lasts a few hours, and when you’re sober you’ve faced with the same stress again.
What’s worse, when you’re drunk you are more prone to make bad decisions, like draining your bank account on a night out or ruining a relationship. When you wake up and realize what you did, you’re left with even more stress than before.
4. Substance Abuse and Depression
Depression can cause drug and alcohol addiction, and vice versa. Some people suffer from clinical depression, which is a serious illness that’s finally beginning to get the attention that it deserves. Depression causes physical exhaustion, a lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy, disrupted sleep patterns, unwanted weight loss or weight gain, feelings of guilt and hopelessness, thoughts of death or suicide, just to mention a few symptoms.
This illness can trigger drug or alcohol use as a form of self-medication. But, as we mentioned before, the effects of alcohol and drugs pass, and when they do, you end up feeling even worse, which can lead you to consume more drugs or alcohol, creating a vicious cycle that can lead to addiction.
5. Alcohol and Memory Loss
Have you ever been out drinking and the next day you have trouble remembering some parts of the night? This is because when you drink your brain processes slow down and your memory is impaired. These “blackouts,” though they might be an indicator that you’re drinking too much, don’t necessarily mean that your memory cells are damaged. However, frequent heavy drinking can have long-term effects on your memory.
Now that you know these 5 ways in which alcohol and drugs affect your brain, I hope you start making good decisions and adopt good habits to improve your mental health. Remember, your mind is just as important as your body and you should give them the same importance when it comes to taking care of them. I used to neglect both my mental and physical health due to drugs and alcohol, but now my overall health is my number one priority, and I can tell you I have never felt better.
Do you know any other ways in which drugs and alcohol can affect your mental health? Or how did you cope with mental illness associated with drug and alcohol abuse to become a better version of yourself? Please let me know in the comments below. I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective.