Let me start this one off by telling you that I miiiiight have had my first drink in high school (sorry, mom!), which was followed closely by my binge-drinking days in college (not as sorry, mom!). I had the cutest, most delicious mimosa bar at my bridal shower last weekend, and heck YES I love me a good glass of wine or a crisp Tito’s + soda + lime.
Needless to say, I enjoy having a drink or two, especially in social settings. But I also know the effects alcohol has on me, which is something I’ve learned through plenty of trial-and-error.
Rewind to my late-high school and early college years … I would wake up most Saturday mornings with a headache, nauseous as all get out, and with what I would eventually learn was crippling anxiety. I worked through the misery by trying my best to sleep in, taking a long shower and carb-loading on bagels or a burger + fries (speaking of, I could really go for a burger right now …). And after all of that, it was almost time to go out again. Fun, right?! Oh, college.
As I matured and my responsibilities grew, those drinking habits and lifestyle dwindled. But when I did decide to go out and drink a decent amount, I was noticing that I’d wake up the next morning in straight-up panic mode.
My chest felt like one giant knot, and thoughts such as “did I say anything stupid last night?” and “dear God, I hope I didn’t embarrass myself or my friends” raced through my mind so fast that no matter how late I stayed up the night before, I could never sleep in. These anxiety-ridden mornings lasted throughout the entire day. It was miserable.
I’m sure you’re able to guess, but this didn’t exactly make my anxiety any better … It made it worse – much worse. Actually, now that I think about it, this was when I started having regular panic attacks.
But why? Did everyone feel this crappy after a night out? I started to dig a little deeper through my bff Google, and ask both my doctor and my therapist questions during my visits. I learned a lot in a short time, but the following three pieces of information completely changed my drinking habits and my quality of life for the better.
- Alcohol is a depressant. This may not be news to some of you, but I honestly had no clue that alcohol is classified as a depressant until I looked into it. Logically, I thought “I drink to relax, to loosen up and to have some fun … So, how could alcohol be a depressant?” Well, while drinking alcohol may initially have that energizing, “upper” effect for some, that feeling will not last. In fact, the effects of alcohol can actually include increased anxiety and stress, specifically. Yikes.
- Alcohol depletes the serotonin levels in the brain. This tidbit of information blew my mind (literally). As a depressant, alcohol lowers levels of serotonin (our “happiness” hormone). Considering I take an antidepressant to increase the levels of serotonin in my brain, drinking heavily was clearly counteracting that. (I take an SSRI, which stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. More on that here.) Basically, for me, excess alcohol + Generalized Anxiety Disorder = worse Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
- Alcohol messes up your sleep cycle. And we allllll know what it’s like when we don’t get enough sleep … It’s just not good. I used to think that passing out after a night of drinking meant that I slept hard, but boy was I wrong! A study revealed that drinking alcohol actually disrupts your body’s sleep homeostasis, or sleep regulator.
After typing this information out, I’m sure that many of you knew of these effects of alcohol … But, maybe you didn’t know or consider how it may affect your mood, your emotional state and/or your overall mental health.
I know that these three facts completely changed my outlook on alcohol and my drinking habits as an anxiety-prone gal.
Knowing all of this, I’m still all about balance and truly enjoy a tasty alcoholic beverage. So, in order to keep my mental health in check, I keep my drinking during the week minimal (if any), and indulge a little more on special occasions and at social events. And yes, I am DEFINITELY having some champagne at my wedding. Cheers, friends!
Please note that I am not a mental health professional. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.