Alcohol abuse is a secret for many, but it is not uncommon. In 2019, 14.5 million people aged 12 and above had an alcohol use disorder in the United States.  An estimated 414,000 of them were teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18, a time when half of all mental illnesses appear for the first time. Alcohol abuse affects mental health by further deepening the dependency on the drug creating a vicious cycle.
Dual Diagnosis, Does Alcohol Abuse Affect Mental Health? Or Vice Versa?
In addition to being a mental health disorder on its own, alcohol use disorder is also commonly present with another diagnosis. When a person has a substance use disorder and another mental illness, this is a dual diagnosis. Understanding dual diagnosis is important in finding the right treatment because drinking is only part of a larger puzzle. The best treatment for alcohol abuse considers the whole person, including their mental health and long-term well-being.
Below are some of the ways that alcohol abuse affects mental health.
Depression and drinking often go together. People turn to alcohol to cope with their chronic feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness. Depression feels a little different for everyone. Many people do not realize some of the feelings and problems they are experiencing are symptoms of depression, and they tend to blame themselves, which only worsens the disorder.
Warning signs of a major depressive disorder, the most diagnosed type of depression, include:
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Increased anxiety and troubling thoughts.
- Loss of interest in activities that once brought joy.
- Common outbursts of anger or increased irritability.
- Lack of pleasure from activities that used to be enjoyable.
- Ongoing feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness.
- Changes in appetite that lead to either skipping meals or overeating.
- Difficulty concentrating and performing even simple tasks, like taking a shower or getting dressed.
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Alcohol abuse can worsen a person’s low mood and feelings of despair. Rumination, the process of thinking about negative thoughts repeatedly, is more common when someone is drunk. This can lead to increased feelings of worthlessness, which fuel the desire to self-harm or thoughts about suicide.
Many mental illnesses are marked by a feeling of shame, guilt, and worthlessness. When you are drunk or going through withdrawal, you are likely to feel these emotions more intensely. Struggling in secret with a substance abuse problem is also a cause of shame for many, and people will continue to drink to avoid feeling like a failure when they cannot quit. Fear of not giving up alcohol, or fear of having to cope with what someone feels like when they are sober, lowers self-esteem even more.
Drinking to feel closer to people is common for someone who is socially anxious or does not necessarily have any close friends. Drinking buddies offer a false sense of belonging, but they quickly disappear when someone decides to taper back or quit drinking.
As alcohol abuse becomes more severe, people resort to drinking alone, eventually isolating themselves to avoid judgment. If drinking makes someone feel depressed or worse about themselves, they are likely only to drink alone. This negative cycle only perpetuates the pain instead of getting to the deeper cause; sometimes, it feels easier to work hard to avoid something than confront it. But the only way to truly reconnect and recover is to begin tackling alcohol abuse and its underlying causes.
Limited Social Support
Just as drinking often can make someone isolate, alcohol abuse also hurts relationships. Family, friends, and partners eventually get fed up with someone’s drinking. Then they begin to avoid them or even cut them off because they do not think they can be helped. What is worse is that people who love someone with a drinking problem carry many hurt and pain themselves. They wonder why they cannot help their loved ones, what they did wrong to cause the problem, or if they are the reason behind someone’s mental health struggles.
Limited social support, stigma about alcohol abuse and mental illness, and self-doubt make it hard to seek help. But no matter how long it has been going on and how many times someone has attempted to get better, they can try again. Relapse is a part of the recovery process, although many people achieve sobriety without relapse. The key is finding the right social networks to support recovery and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Intensified Psychological Disorders
Alcohol abuse can trigger and intensify psychotic symptoms, including hearing and seeing things that are not there (visual and auditory hallucinations). It can also worsen a person’s ability to control their emotions, making personality disorders and other mental illnesses even more difficult to manage. Without intervention, alcohol abuse will only get worse, and it will continue to worsen a person’s mental health, too.
Reach Out For Help Today
Seeking help from a rehab that has a holistic approach is the best way to achieve life-long recovery. By treating the whole person and not just their drinking habits or mental health, dual diagnosis treatment becomes all-inclusive. Healing from the past, learning to live fully in the present, and being confident about the future make holistic alcohol treatment programs unique.
If you’ve seen how alcohol abuse affects mental health and are worried it affects your or someone you love’s quality of life, contact one of our professionals at Desert Cove Recovery.