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Alcohol and Mental Health Problems Part 1

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to

This is the first of two articles in the Westmeath Examiner on alcohol’s link to mental health problems. Alcohol can be described as both a tonic and a poison. The difference between “tonic and poison” lies in the dose. Part of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) mantra is that there is “no problem that alcohol cannot make worse.” Of the problems that alcohol can cause or worsen, mental illness is one of the most frequent, serious, and frequently underdiagnosed. People with a mental illness, irrespective of the diagnosis, can face serious consequences by misusing alcohol. Alcohol can cause depression, anxiety, sleep problems and can have harmful interactions with psychiatric medications. A person who drinks alcohol while receiving psychiatric treatment (especially when taking medication) is advised to cut out alcohol completely. Scientific studies suggest that nearly one-third of people with mental illness experience alcohol problems. Conversely, more than one-third of all alcohol abusers are also battling mental illness.


Alcohol and it relationship with mental health problems

It can be difficult to assess or diagnose mental health problems for people who abuse or are dependent on alcohol because heavy drinking associated with alcoholism can contribute to mental health problems, can result from mental health problems or can be independent of the mental health problem. Alcoholism can complicate or mimic practically any psychiatric condition.


How alcohol can contribute or cause mental health problems

Heavy alcohol use directly affects brain function and alters various brain chemicals and hormonal systems known to be involved in the development of many common mental disorders (e.g., mood and anxiety disorders. Alcoholism can manifest itself in a broad range of psychiatric symptoms and signs. Mental health problems often are the first problems for which an alcoholic patient seeks help. In addition to the direct chemical effects of alcohol on brain function, abuse of alcohol can lead to other personal problems including legal, financial, relationship and family problems which may indirectly contribute to ongoing alcohol related symptoms, such as sadness, despair, and anxiety.


Mental health problems independent of alcohol abuse (but which can make a person more prone to alcohol problems)

Alcoholism is also associated with several mental health problems that develop independently of the alcoholism and may pre-date alcohol use and abuse. These independent mental health illnesses can make people more likely to develop alcohol problems. Mental health illnesses associated with alcoholism include personality disorder, depression, schizophrenia, insomnia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social phobia, panic disorder, post–traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, psychotic symptoms and drug related problems,


Upcoming talk on depression and mental health

Whelehans Pharmacy have organised an expert panel to discuss depression and mental health on Thursday August 6th at 7pm in the Greville Arms Hotel; some leading local experts on this subject will be talking. This talk will be open to all and will be free of charge. Keep an eye on this column in the coming weeks for more details. In order to avoid disappointment, you can put your name down on the waiting list for this event by calling Whelehans at 04493 34591.


To be continued…next week I will discuss specific mental health problems linked to alcoholism.


This article is shortened to fit within Newspaper space limits. More detailed information and leaflets is available in Whelehans

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