Using alcohol to manage your mental health can do more harm than good
Sometimes when people feel down or worried, they turn to alcohol to boost their mood or calm their nerves. Society often promotes the use of alcohol to manage mental health. Have you ever been invited to a happy hour to celebrate the end of a stressful work week? The term “happy hour” implies that drinking elevates our mood and makes us feel happy. Maybe you’ve seen wine glasses imprinted with phrases such as “Mommy’s Sippy Cup” or “Wine is Cheaper Than Therapy.” These glasses also reinforce the idea that alcohol is a cure-all and can benefit our mental health.
Understanding the effects alcohol has on your mental health
Using alcohol to deal with stress or manage mental health conditions like anxiety and depression may do more harm than good. Research shows that there is a direct link between alcohol and depression. Increasing use of alcohol increases a person’s risk of depression.1 Alcohol seems to improve our mood temporarily by stimulating the release of endorphins in our brains.2 Over time, however, alcohol can reduce these mood-enhancers and lead to depression.3
Healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety
When it comes to managing our mental health, there are many healthy alternatives to alcohol for relieving stress and anxiety. Try some of the ideas below.
Practice positive self-talk
When we feel down, anxious, or stressed, we tend to think negatively. Be aware of these negative thought patterns. Try to reframe negative thoughts in a more positive light. Be kind to yourself!
Engage in an enjoyable activity
When we feel depressed, we often lose interest in doing activities that bring us joy. Think about hobbies you enjoy. Set goals to incorporate those hobbies into your daily life.
Keep a gratitude journal
Practicing gratitude can promote positive feelings. Make a habit of writing down three things that you are thankful for each day.
Research shows that aerobic exercises are proven to reduce anxiety and depression, especially when performed 15–30 minutes at least three times per week for 10 weeks or longer.4 Set an initial goal to walk for 15 minutes three times per week, then gradually increase your time and days you walk.
UPMC Health Plan mental health support
UPMC Health Plan can support you on your journey to better your mental and behavioral health.
To learn more about our coverage and resources, visit: upmchealthplan.com/members/learn/benefits-and-services/behavioral-health.aspx.
- Boden JM, Fergusson DM. Alcohol and depression. Addiction. 2011 May;106(5):906-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03351. x. Epub 2011 Mar 7. PMID: 21382111.
- Thrasybule L. Alcohol Releases the Brain’s ‘Feel-Good’ Chemicals. Live Science. 2013. Accessed March 30, 2022. livescience.com/36084-alcohol-releases-endorphins-brain.html
- Ramsey SE, Engler PA, Stein MD. Alcohol Use Among Depressed Patients: The Need for Assessment and Intervention. Prof Psychol Res Pr. 2005;36(2):203-207. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.36.2.203
- Guszkowska M. Wpływ ćwiczeń fizycznych na poziom leku i depresji oraz stany nastroju [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood]. Psychiatr Pol. 2004 Jul-Aug;38(4):611-20. Polish. PMID: 15518309.