Drinking and Mental Health

assorted-color bottle lot on shelf

There is one drug is the world that is, I would argue, more harmful than any of the others. Completely legal in the vast majority of countries, it makes you feel sociable when you’re shy, warm when you’re cold, and happy when you’re flat. Not only socially acceptable, but socially encouraged, it is nevertheless addictive and a cause of many a premature death.

What I’m talking about is, of course, alcohol.

It has been one month and four days since I have last had any.

I realise the counting of the days makes me sound like an alcoholic, but I just like counting. I was not, and am not, an alcoholic by any means. My body was not dependent on the substance at all. I did not get the shakes. I did not get the sweats. I did not get the cravings.

But, like a lot of people in the UK, my life entailed a lot of post-work drinks and pre-drink drinks, and it took me far too long to realise that this was no good. It wasn’t just that I was drinking more than the recommended limit of 14 units a week, that alcohol can cause liver disease, cancer, pancreatitis, brain damage, osteoporosis, and heart disease.

It was that alcohol is a furious depressant, can not only interact with anti-depressant medication but cause depression: the condition I’ve been putting up with for years.

So, I made the decision to stop: to cut it out entirely for a least a few months, and see where it takes me.

Despite what I thought, I don’t miss it at all. I still go out. I still make memories with my friends. I still have half-hour friendships with strangers outside bars. It’s just that I do it holding a Diet Coke in my hand (yes, I know, not the healthiest of drinks, but whatever).

I cannot deny that my mood has stabilised since I’ve quit the booze. I’ve also lost a few pounds, and am far more productive than I was: reading and writing much more.

In some ways, it’s socially unacceptable to be teetotal in the UK. Drinking is so engrained in our culture, so celebrated as a way of life, that people look at you baffled if you are drinking just a fizzy drink on a night out.

I should know: I was a bartender for two years. People here like to get sloshed. A lot. If someone said they just wanted a Diet Coke at eleven p-m on a Friday night, I would be taken aback, and probably give them that shit for free, because soda costs bars pennies and if someone is not contributing to our drinking culture, then that’s only a good thing.

I’m planning on having a drink on my twenty-sixth birthday in July. I plan to savour the taste, feel the warmth extend to my heart and have it (most probably) go straight to my head. I won’t fall off the wagon: moderation is the way forward for me. I have had too many depressive episodes for my liking. If quitting the booze will help them subside, or better yet, disappear, then that can only be a good thing.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that quitting alcohol won’t “cure” me of my depression. I also need therapy, healthy hobbies, a direction in life, exercise and the right medicine. It’s just one step in the right direction: one step that so far, I’m very glad I made.