Consistently drinking little or no alcohol is a solid foundation for our mental health. So why don’t we say so?
Alcohol worsens and causes common aggravations like low mood and anxiety, while prolonging our recovery from traumatic events. So why would we make our lives harder?
There is not a one-size-fits-all alcohol guidelines for mental health, but the UK’s low-risk guidelines of drinking no more than 14 units (140ml) a week is, perhaps, a reasonable starting point.
Avoiding drinking entirely can be easier than trying to drink little. So a “sober sprint” like Dry January could be a good way to begin a long-term low-risk drinking lifestyle.
Finding our bounce
Developing an ability to cope with life’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without drinking alcohol tends to be better for our mental health in the long term.
Drinking alcohol has the opposite effect, worsening our mood and increasing our anxiety, although it may seem otherwise. This misleading impression can make it hard to go without it.
This misconception can mean we drink heavily when we suffer more significant traumas, and this may mean we start developing side-effects when we are alcohol-free, including low mood and anxiety.
Drinking more than a small amount of alcohol increases our chances of suffering more psychological discomforts. We are all likely to feel better for reducing this risk.
Drinking little or no alcohol is the best way to spare ourselves such needless mental anguish in the long term. This applies to everyone, regardless of our current drinking habits.
Lost in vaguery
This simple message is seldom clearly expressed. We tiptoe around it rather than simply telling people a simple fact which might spare them discomfort.
Counsellors and other caring professional are often loath to say it to clients, though the reasons for this reluctance are not easy for an outsider to understand.
Some say they do not want to “label” their clients, something they prefer to leave to the medical system. Perceived labelling, they say, would imperil the client-counsellor relationship.
There would also be, one counsellor says, legal risks to giving such advice too. Instead, then, counsellors prefer to point clients with alcohol worries to their GPs.
But patients often do not want to talk to their GPs. And GPs too can be squeamish about talking to their patients about our alcohol drinking, again for fear of dropping a clanger.
Put it straight
Wariness is understandable. But sensitivity should not get in the way of relaying simple information that can help us. The stigma around this advice is born of misunderstanding.
Observing that little or no alcohol drinking provides us the most reliable platform for better mental health applies to us all, regardless labels. ■