When depression, anxiety, worry, fear, or stress have a detrimental impact on your daily functioning, you may look to dull your symptoms with alcohol. Alcohol can bring about a temporary sense of calm and relaxation that is a welcome relief from your mental health symptoms. Unfortunately, using alcohol to manage symptoms associated with mental illness often leads to additional problems, including the physical and psychological impacts of an alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction.
How Does Alcohol Impact the Brain?
Your brain is skilled at adaptation. It can physically alter its structure to adapt itself to your environment. This allows you to perform better and more efficiently at whatever you are doing. If you are participating in healthy hobbies or activities, this is beneficial to your performance and function. However, if you consistently drink, alcohol impacts the brain and may begin to alter its form and function to help you function better with alcohol in your system.
When this happens, the brain changes how nerve cells communicate. It changes how the reward centers in the brain operate, resulting in increased cravings for alcohol and the feeling that one “cannot function” without alcohol in their system. Alcohol use also makes it more difficult for the brain areas that control speech, memory, balance, and judgment to perform their jobs. Unfortunately, some of these changes are irreversible.
Depending on the severity and duration of your addiction, once an alcoholic stops drinking, some of the alterations to the brain and its function may remain a problem throughout their lives. In some instances, alcohol and dependency can lead to new or worsening mental health symptoms or co-occurring disorders (a mental illness and simultaneous alcohol addiction) that require specialized treatment to overcome safely.
How Does Alcohol Affect Mental Health?
Alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction cause physical and functional changes in the brain. Short-term effects of alcohol use on the brain (and brain functions) include blackouts, memory problems, poor judgment, and mood changes. Chronic, untreated alcohol addiction often leads to mental health effects that are more severe and sometimes permanent. These may include mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and others.
When you struggle with both a mental health condition and an alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction or alcoholism), it is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Some statistics suggest up to half of those who struggle with a mental illness also experience symptoms related to a substance use disorder.
Dual diagnosis conditions frequently occur because of self-medication. Many people turn to alcohol to cope with symptoms of a mental health condition. Using alcohol to reduce or manage the severity of symptoms is not without potential dangers. In some instances, alcohol use will help alleviate symptoms for a short time; however, once the alcohol wears off, undesirable symptoms return.
Sometimes when the fear, sadness, or stress returns, it does so in a more severe and more intense way leading you to drink more often and more frequently to keep these feelings at bay. Using alcohol to self-medicate is a common but ineffective solution that often causes worsening symptoms. For some, using alcohol to manage mental health symptoms may also cause new symptoms to appear. This is especially true when you try to reduce or stop drinking and experience withdrawal.
How to Find Mental Health and Alcohol Treatment Services
When you struggle with alcohol addiction and mental health symptoms, the best way to achieve and maintain lasting sobriety is to choose a New Jersey treatment program like Relevance Recovery, where dual diagnosis treatment is available. In a New Jersey dual diagnosis rehab program, your treatment team will work with you to design a plan that addresses all areas of your physical and psychological health.
As part of a comprehensive, evidence-based therapy program, you will learn how to identify, examine and then change the thoughts and behaviors that lead to harmful, such as using alcohol to self-medicate. Your treatment team at Relevance Recovery will also help you learn more about triggers and how to manage triggering situations or people without using alcohol. Learning and practicing new, healthy, and safer coping tools is a vital step on your journey to lasting recovery.
Contact us today for more information about our programs if you would like to learn more about dual diagnosis treatment and how our experienced, compassionate team at Relevance Recovery can help you find freedom from alcohol and mental health symptoms.