Alcohol and Mood Disorders: It Can Be a Strange Relationship

A lot of us enjoy a drink when we’re out for the evening. After all, it helps us to relax. For people like me who have mood disorders though, our relationship with alcohol can be more complex and potentially problematic.

I rarely drink at home. If I’m absolutely honest, while I do like the odd beer or glass of wine and will try new drinks for the experience of it, I don’t tend to enjoy alcohol all that much. I also don’t like to get drunk. My anxiety disorder means that the thought of not being totally in control of myself is a worry.

At the same time though my anxiety disorder can mean that, while out in social situations, I feel compelled to drink. This is for two reasons, really. First, there’s a certain social pressure–which I probably totally imagine, as none of my friends would ever mandate I drink something alcoholic or be cast out of the group. No, but still that worry exists. Second though, I have to admit that I’ve often felt like I need alcohol in order to be in social situations in the first place.

You see, I’m usually quite measured, friendly but a little quiet, and in a group I will tend to pull back. This is especially true when meeting new people for the first time, in a new setting. You can often see me rubbing my hands on my trouser legs as I’ve begun to cold-sweat, and I may have trouble talking due to the fact that my breathing rate will be far too fast. While this won’t last for the length of the evening, and I might quickly settle down, this can sour what would otherwise be a thoroughly enjoyable night, and I might feel exhausted by the end of the evening–or I may choose not to go out at all, simply because I do not want to deal with that initial stress. When I was a teenager I often missed out on going to nightclubs and other parties, simply because I couldn’t deal with my anxiety.

When I have a few drinks though, I become a bit fearless, a bit witty and, I’m told, quite entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course and indeed I secretly relish being able to enjoy being if not the center of attention then at least sharing the halo of the spotlight. For most of my twenties, this is how I’ve coped with social anxiety.

In recent years though, I’ve noticed that I’ve begun to make this having a few drinks a habit, and that unless I have a drink I now feel anxious about, well, not having had a drink and then being in social situations. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s the distinction between really dealing with your problems and trying to find ways around them that may not always be healthy. There’s another factor that also weighs on my mind here: my mother was never officially diagnosed as an alcoholic, but I strongly suspect that she was as she would easily consume a bottle of whiskey a day to every two days, and would drink no matter the time or occasion. A strong dependence on alcohol is also present elsewhere in my family, so this is always in the back of my mind: our genes, it seems, have a taste for it. I’d prefer that I did not.

In addition to this worry, I don’t just have an anxiety disorder but, like many other people, I also have relapsing depression. People who suffer depression have to be careful when consuming alcohol because it can trigger or deepen depressive moods and in some circumstances can in fact tip people toward a sustained depressive episode. People who are depressed may also drink to try to lessen the intensity of their feelings. I’ve never been a depressive drinker, but I have noticed that, as I’m getting older, I unfortunately do have a slump in my moods if I indulge in more than a couple of alcoholic drinks, and I’m not bouncing back as quickly as I once did.

Mood disorders and substance abuse have a significant overlap, and some statistics suggest around 30 percent of people diagnosed with a mood disorder may also have a substance abuse problem (usually, though not exclusively, alcohol). I’m thankful to say that I have managed to stay the right side of the line and do not have such a problem–but I’d like it to remain that way.

That’s why I’ve taken the difficult decision to stop drinking alcohol for the next six months. This is an exercise in trying to confront my social anxiety, something that I’m doing elsewhere in my life too. It’s also a recognition that I need to be more proactive in trying to ward off my depressive episodes. This isn’t me making a value-judgement on other people’s drinking habits, because if you can enjoy a drink without it being a problem then good on you, but instead a realization that I have to do what I think is best for my health even if, in the short term, this will make my life a little harder.

I also wanted to highlight this because if you know someone who like me has an anxiety disorder or depressive episodes, and you recognize any of the things that I’ve described here and are concerned, reaching out to them and asking how you can make it easier for them to feel at ease in social situations could in itself help to dramatically lessen their worries. As always, just being able to talk about our anxiety can go a long way to dealing with it.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

63 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

it really does affect people differently. Even draft beer and canned beer, same person but behaved so weird having sleepwalking and being a jerk to everyone.

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Winn Adams
Winn A3 years ago

Thanks

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Corey Brideau
Corey Brideau3 years ago

i hear of a beer that is made in an environmentally sustainable way i want to check them out lol

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Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Stephanie Fideles

I "banned" alcohol of my life, and i´m glad about it. If i drink it 5 times per year its too much. People strange it, because even causing many problems, alcohol is very estimulated to be consumed. But i dont mind, for me its just a waste of money and health and i dont miss it at all.

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Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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Mahmoud Khalil
Mahmoud Khalil3 years ago

noted

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Kamia C.
Kamia T3 years ago

As a person who has suffered from Asperger's my entire life, I went through a period of drinking any time I had to confront a social situation, and it just made the problems worse. Now it is so seldom that I drink, simply because I've come to know and accept my limitations; and have decided that those who don't like me don't know what they're missing LOL.

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Alexander P.
Alexander P3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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