Dry January and Beyond
As the New Year dawns, many are setting resolutions to better themselves. One New Year trend recently gaining popularity is “Dry January.” During this month, individuals choose to abstain from alcohol in hopes that it will improve their health and save them money on nights out.
But this trend can do more than support a healthier liver–It can support a healthier mind. This blog will dive into the lesser-known connections between alcohol consumption and mental health, especially for those who struggle with depression and anxiety.
Alcohol and the Brain
Statistics reveal a heightened prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) among individuals with depression and anxiety. This prevalence can be attributed to the fact that alcohol can contribute to the development of mental illness and be relied on by those with existing conditions to cope with their symptoms (Alcohol and Mental Health 2022).
When alcohol is consumed, it affects the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin that regulate mood, emotion, and inhibition. This can lead to temporary good feelings, but when increased in frequency and amount over time, it can disrupt regular chemical levels. This results in mood dysregulation.
Furthermore, alcohol acts as a sedative, which can lead to disrupted sleep patterns. Poor sleep quality can then exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alcohol’s ability to impair judgment and increase impulsiveness also contributes to difficulty coping with stress and anxiety (Alcohol and Mental Health 2023).
Dual Diagnosis and Treatment Challenges
AUD can also complicate the treatment process from a provider’s perspective. It can be challenging to recognize a dual diagnosis of a mood disorder and a substance use disorder, making it difficult to prescribe treatment and manage both conditions effectively. Alcohol can interfere with psychopharmaceutical medication efficacy, making it harder to improve mental health symptoms and thereby creating a vicious cycle of symptom escalation. Prescribers must understand the ways alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of the medication they prescribe. They may need to provide alternative methods of treatment and support to individuals struggling with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders.
Alcohol Cessation and Alternative Treatments
In cases where alcohol may interfere with the efficacy of a usual antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, alternative treatments can be employed. These may include:
- Behavioral therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). These talk therapies can help individuals identify, challenge, and replace negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to both their alcohol use and their mental health
- Support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or depression and anxiety group These can provide a safe, validating environment for individuals to share their experiences and receive encouragement and guidance from others.
- Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) specifically for alcohol cessation. MAT combines medications such as naltrexone or acamprosate that support substance cessation with behavioral therapy to help individuals overcome alcohol dependence. At the same time, they learn new coping skills to improve their mental
- Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety effectively. Regular physical activity releases feel-good hormones in the brain and can provide an alternative sense of ritual behavior to replace
By working with a healthcare professional or team of integrated care providers, those struggling with alcohol use and a mood disorder can determine which treatment methods work best for their needs, lifestyle, and stage of change.
While Dry January can be a valuable experiment or challenge to assess the effects of alcohol on one’s life, people need to remember that alcohol cessation can take time. In some cases, a more drastic or long-term approach is necessary. Reducing alcohol consumption is a process, and progress may not always be linear. There can be setbacks along the journey. By working with a professional and seeking support from loved ones, reducing alcohol dependency can significantly improve one’s mental health.
Alcohol and Mental Health. Alcohol Think Again. (2022, October 4). Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://alcoholthinkagain.com.au/alcohol-your-health/alcohol-and-mental-health/
Alcohol and Mental Health. Drinkaware. (2023). Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-and-m ental-health