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Alcohol


"There are probably people who are considered
alcoholic who only drink to control their anxiety.
When this is treated successfully, their strong
urge to drink lessens. The alcoholism is really
only secondary to the anxiety disease, a
complication of it."
(Dr David Sheehan)

A lot of people when faced with chronic stress, anxiety and depression try to cope with these health problems by using alcohol to find relief from their suffering. While alcohol may aid relaxation in small amounts and used in the short term, in the long term it is one of the worst things you could do, for in the end it can actually increase the severity of the symproms of stress, anxiety and depression. You end up having to consume ever higher and higher amounts of alcohol in order to sustain its effects and as a result excess alcohol can cause or exacerbate a wide range of psychological and physiological health problems besides the inital stress, anxiety and depression.

A report published by the Institute of Alcohol Research said that nearly two million people in the UK have an alcohol problem and can't get through a day without consuming alcohol. Alcohol is regarded as being socially acceptable to consume but in reality it is a drug and has widespread negative effects on our biochemistry when consumed in excess levels. Ask many people and they will cite that they are concerned over the level of drug abuse in modern society, yet twice as many people are addicted to alcohol compared to other drugs.

Research indicates that consuming excess alcohol can be a factor in causing health problems like chronic stress, anxiety and depression. So in order to recover our optimal psychological health it is absolutely vital that we reduce our alcohol to currently recommended limits. If you are consuming excess levels it would be wise to contact one of the alcohol organisations to help you to withdraw.

In the final analysis alcohol doesn't solve problems, in fact it creates more problems that you have to deal with. Consuming alcohol to help us deal with our problems is the equivalent of pouring petrol onto a fire in order to put the fire out. You don't have to totally abstain from alcohol but its vital for wellbeing to keep consumption to within safe limits.



NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL ON BRAIN AND BODY BIOCHEMISTRY

Alcohol can and does have a potentially powerful and mostly negative effect on brain and body biochemistry if consumed in excess amounts causing or exacerbating stress, anxiety and depression. Alcohol is a chemical stressor and causes the body to release stress hormones like cortisol and if you already have heightened levels of these stress hormones, the alcohol will make them higher. It does this by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal glands.

Alcohol can temporarily raise mood enhancing chemical levels like those of serotonin, this is how it can improve mood, but in excess alcohol makes these serotonin levels fall and lowers mood, increasing depression.

Certain nutrients are needed by the body in order for it to manufacture chemicals that dampen anxiety. Alcohol causes depletion of vitamin B6 and Folic acid, the very nutrients needed for us to be in optimum psychological health enabling us to cope with stress. It also stimulates the release of the stress hormone adrenaline and interferes with the amino acid tryptophan which is used to manufacture serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical involved in sleep and mood regulation.


ALCOHOL AND ANXIETY

Alcohol in small amounts can have a relaxant, anti-anxiety effect and this is why a lot of people use it, however, if you use it in this way you have to consume ever larger amounts to achieve the same effects, as your body gets used to the alcohol, and research has shown that alcohol in excess in the long term can significantly increase our anxiety. Alcohol acts by mimicking the activity and function of the chemicals already present in the brain that help us to relax.

In her book, "Molecules of Emotion", Dr Candace Pert says alcohol binds to GABA receptors in the brain which are used by tranquilizing brain chemicals that have the effect of reducing our anxiety levels, but only in the short term, when we consume alcohol it competes with the natural chemicals that are meant to bind with the GABA receptors, often flooding them and thereby causing them to decrease in sensitivity and/or number and causing them to signal a decrease in peptide secretion. The physiological effects resulting from substance abuse are reversible but it can be a very slow process before the receptors return to their original sensitivity and number and the corresponding peptides get back into body wide production and flow.

Another way in which alcohol can increase anxiety is by its effect on lactic acid. Research indicates that increased lactic acid levels may be an underlying factor in anxiety and panic attacks. The aim is to prevent the conversion of pyruvic acid to lactic acid the the conversion of lactic acid back to pyruvate. Nutrition appears to play a key role according to Dr Melvyn Werback MD, author of Nutritional Influences on Mental Illness, who says that alcohol can be a factor in causing elevated lactate or lactate to pyruvate levels.


 
ALCOHOL AND DEPRESSION

Alcohol in the short term can boost our serotonin but in the long term excess can actually lower these levels. Excess alcohol can cause or exacerbate depression, it interferes with the amino acid tryptophan which the body needs to produce the mood enhancing chemical called serotonin. Alcohol is also laden with refined sugar which is how it can cause obesity. Research has indicated that high levels of refined sugar can be a factor in causing depression.

Alcohol in excess amounts can lower our mood. A large number of alcoholics have symptoms of depression. As many as 25% of untreated drug and alcohol abusers eventually commit suicide. The late KGB spy Kim Philby once said that drunkeness was the least painful method of suicide. Excess alcohol doesn't solve our problems, it causes more problems for us to deal with, so in order to ease depression it is vital we control our alcohol intake.


ALCOHOL AND PANIC ATTACKS

Some people with panic attacks resort to alcohol to help them cope. Alcohol in the short term can reduce panic symptoms. As many as 10 - 20% of panic sufferers may have an alcohol problem and research has indicated that more than 30% of alcohol abusers had a panic disorder or social phobia before they began to use alcohol in order to find relief from their psychological health problem.

 
HOW MUCH ALCOHOL IS SAFE?

You don't have to be an alcoholic for alcohol to be a cause of health and social problems in your life. In order to help assess whether you have an alcohol problem, Clinical Psychologist Dr Kevin Gourney in his book, Stress Management, a Guide to Coping, has devised these questions you should ask yourself. You must be honest with yourself when answering them, because its only yourself you will be fooling. Almost 50% of men and 20% of women drink more than the recommended levels. Alcohol can be a very addictive chemical.

1. Do you drink alcohol daily?

2. Has your alcohol tolerance changed, are you drinking more than before to get the same effect?

3. Do you feel guilty because of your drinking?

4. Do you have memory gaps?

5. Do friends comment on the amount you drink?

6. Do you exceed safe drinking limits?

7. Do you sometimes feel shakey after a heavy drinking session?


THE HEALTH EDUCATION AUTHORITY CURRENT GUIDELINES FOR THE LEVEL OF MAXIMUM CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL IS:

- 21 units per week for men.
- 14 units per week for women, (But no alcohol if pregnant).


A UNIT OF ALCOHOL REPRESENTS:

- Half a pint of ordinary beer (not strong)
or
- A pub measure of spirit
or
- A normal size glass of wine.


It is important to spread these alcohol units out throughout the week. Some people go on a massive binge and use up the 21 units of alcohol recommended per week, over a day or two, which research has shown to be harmful. If you do feel you have an alcohol problem then you could reduce the impact on stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia by cutting down your intake to current recommended drinking limits.

 
DISEASES RELATED TO EXCESS ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION

Excess alcohol consumption can cause or worsen a great many pschological, physical and social health problems. Alcohol related disease is such a problem that it has been estimated that up to 20% of all beds on Medical Units in the NHS are taken up by people suffering alcohol related medical health problems. Almost 50% of men and 20% of women drink alcohol to deal with stress, 1:20 people in the UK, that's nearly 2 million people have an alcohol problem and 1:4 people cannot get through the day without alcohol so you are not alone. It is nothing to be ashamed of, excess alcohol is a very treatable problem and there are alternative, safer and more effective ways of dealing with stress, anxiety and depression.

 
CAUTION

You should always check with your pharmacist if it is safe to consume alcohol with the medication you are on because the side effects can be lethal. It is never wise to consume alcohol and medication because the alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of some types of medication.

 
ALCOHOL WITHDRAWL

If you have been using excess alcohol you should not suddenly stop your drinking because if you do it can cause temporary health problems like DTs, exacerbation of your anxiety symptoms and even fits. See your doctor for guidance on withdrawl. By gradually reducing your intake you help to avoid withdrawl symptoms.

 

 
ALCOHOL SOURCES

1. Bloomfield H. (1998) Healing Anxiety with Herbs, Thorsons.

2. Bourne E. (1995) The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, New Harbinger.

3. Chick J. (1999) Understanding Alcohol and Drinking Problems, Family Doctor Publications.

4. Cooper C.L, Cooper R.D. and Eaker L.H. (1988), Living with Stress, Penguin.

5. Eliot R.S. and Breo D.A. (1989) How to Make Stress Work for You. Bantam.

6. Farrel E. (1997) The Complete Guide to Mental Health, Vermillion.

7. Gournay K (1995) Stress Management: a guide to coping with stress. Assett.

8. James O. The Times 15/5/1999.

9. MacFarlane M (1996) The Panic Attack, Anxiety and Phobia Solutions Handbook, United Research Publishers.

10. Milligan S. and Clare A (1994) Depression and How to Survive it. Arrow.

11. Murray M. (1995) Stress, Anxiety and Insomnia, Prima Publishing.

12. Pert C. (1997) Molecules of Emotion, Simon and Schuster.

13. Taylor S.E. (1995) Health Psychology, 3rd edition, McGraw Hill inc.

14. Woolpert L (1999) Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression, Faber and Faber.


USEFUL WEB ADDRESSES

www.alcoholconcern.org.uk