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Within: Alcohol

Related to: Drinking Behaviour, Alcohol Treatment, Alcohol Related Hospital Admissions, Alcohol and Young People, Alcohol and Community Safety, Licensing and the Night Time Economy, Crime and Disorder, Ill Health and Disability, Students, Safeguarding Children and Young People, Anxiety and Depression, Domestic Abuse, Homelessness, Mental Health and Illness, Multiple Unhealthy Lifestyle Behaviours, Major Causes of MortalitySafeguarding Adults, Self-Harm, Substance Misuse, Unintentional Injuries, Wellbeing, Socio-economic Inequality [[Pharmacy Needs Assessment]], Children and Young People

Key Facts:

  • People who drink heavily are far more likely to suffer from mental illness.
  • It is estimated that up to two thirds of suicides in the UK are linked to excessive drinking.
  • A survey of self-harm patients at Scottish accident and emergency departments found that nearly two thirds (62%) of males and half (50%) of females had consumed alcohol immediately before or while self-harming.
  • Drinking more than 30 units per day for several weeks can occasionally cause ‘psychosis’, a severe mental illness where hallucinations and delusions of persecution develop.
  • People who start drinking at a young age, sometimes 12 or 15 years-old, are more at risk of mental impairment, because the brain is still developing until the age of 18 or 19.

What does the data say?

People who drink heavily are far more likely to suffer from mental illness. Drinking alcohol is linked to both Anxiety and Depression. 1

A 2006 survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that people suffering from anxiety or depression were twice as likely to be heavy or problem drinkers. 2

Increased alcohol use changes the psychology of the brain and reduces its ability to deal with anxiety naturally. This can lead to more alcohol being needed to experience the same reduction in anxiety. 3

Similarly with depression, levels of serotonin, a chemical in your brain that helps to regulate your mood are depleted through regular drinking. That means feeling more depressed, and possibly drinking more to deal with it, a vicious cycle. 4

Alcohol has also been linked to Self-Harm, Suicide and Mortality of Undetermined Intent and Psychosis. 5

It is estimated that up to two thirds of suicides in the UK are linked to excessive drinking. As many as 70% of successful male suicides are alcohol related, according to the Mental Health Foundation. 6

As well as suicide, alcohol and self-harm are also linked. A survey of self-harm patients at Scottish accident and emergency departments found that nearly two thirds (62%) of males and half (50%) of females had consumed alcohol immediately before or while self-harming. 7

Drinking more than 30 units per day for several weeks can occasionally cause ‘psychosis’, a severe mental illness where hallucinations and delusions of persecution develop. Psychotic symptoms can also occur when very heavy drinkers suddenly stop drinking. 8

People who start drinking at a young age, sometimes 12 or 15 years-old, are more at risk of mental impairment, because the brain is still developing until the age of 18 or 19. 9

In more severe cases mental illness and alcohol problems carry a potential risk of violence or suicide, a high relapse rate and can lead to serious personal and social problems, in particular criminal offending and homelessness. 10

Of those prisoners who engaged in hazardous drinking in the 12 months prior to going to prison, 71% of male remand prisoners and 59% of male sentenced prisoners were assessed as having 2 or more mental health or behavioural disorders. Among female prisoners, 87% of remand prisoners and 77% of sentenced had an additional 2 or more comorbid disorders (1999). 11

In many cases anxiety is a consequence of heavy drinking rather than a cause. While low doses may appear to cheer people up higher doses increase psychological distress so drinkers become progressively more depressed and anxious during chronic intoxication. 12