Understanding alcohol and mental health

Alcohol and mental health have a complex, reinforcing relationship.

Some people who struggle with mental health might reach for a drink to blot out their feelings. For others, drinking came first and has led to long-term problems in maintaining good mental health. According to Public Health England, 86% of people receiving treatment from alcohol services have co-occurring mental ill health (PHE, 2017) – this is sometimes known clinically as ‘dual diagnosis.’

Drinking heavily can make some mental health conditions, including anxiety, harder to deal with.

In the early stages of drinking, many people begin to feel more relaxed and might experience positive mood changes. This is because alcohol reduces our inhibitions – leading us to feel more confident. But these affects can quickly change – and the more alcohol is consumed, the more likely it becomes that a negative emotional response could take over.

  • Heavy drinking disrupts the quality of your sleep – a key factor in positive wellbeing
  • Drinking can affect relationships with your partner, family and friends
  • Drinking heavily can impact on your behaviour and has been linked to aggression
  • Alcohol affects mood and can lead you to feel angry, anxious or depressed
  • In the long-term, alcohol misuse can also cause memory loss – which is why you can wake up with a ‘blank’ about what you said or did.

Find out more about the ways alcohol can harm your mental health.

Finding support with your mental health can help you to make progress and reduce the harms caused by drinking. Dedicated support is available through: