Alcohol made my depression worse

I have depression. So understanding the impact alcohol has on my mental health helps me make good conscious decisions about my drinking habits. In order to understand why alcohol has a negative impact on my mental health when drinking, I first had to educate myself about what happens to my brain when I drink.

Alcohol causes depression

Alcohol is a depressant. This means it messes with your body’s natural “happy chemicals” like serotonin and dopamine.  If you’re anything like me and have to take medication to help make up for the lack of serotonin in your brain, you’ll know you’re not really willing to part with any more happy chemicals. . (Editor’s note, many commentators disagree that lack of serotonin is the case of depression. See more details here

At first I get a good buzz

I was once that person who would get a good buzz at the start of my drinking. Then I would start to feel sad, angry, anxious, depressed and sometimes even aggressive. Some people, like me who suffer with anxiety and depression will use alcohol as a coping mechanism. However, in the long run this can create more anxiety and stress.

Anxiety and depression can make us drink too much

As the alcohol leaves the body, stress and anxiety can actually intensify due to the impact of alcohol on the brain. People who drink heavily are also more likely to experience symptoms of depression and alcohol can also intensify negative emotions. I find suffering with a mental health issue, means it is imperative I learn to cope and manage my stress and anxiety without alcohol. It is a very easy road to go down and become dependent.

It’s difficult in Ireland to say no

In our Irish culture most events and social life revolve around alcohol. People don’t realise alcohol is a psychoactive drug. So it can be really hard to say no when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

We’ve all been there;

“I’ve had such a bad day, I’d love a few drinks!”

But if we are using alcohol as a solution to our problems, whether that’s stress, anxiety, boredom, or anything else, we risk becoming psychologically dependent on alcohol.

Simple things help

A few ways I found to help manage the struggles in my brain is living a healthy lifestyle. Simple things like nutritious food and a good exercise regime to help encourage those natural endorphins. Meeting a friend for coffee and getting some worries off my chest. Learning some breathing and stress management techniques to help me calm down when feeling overwhelmed or even seeking professional help from the GP. There is no shame in admitting we need a little help managing to get through this crazy journey we call life.

If you would like more tips on controlling your drinking, click here.

If you are not sure what help you need you can call the HSE Alcohol Helpline 1800 459 459 during office hours

Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

Is there a message in the bottle?

Maybe one of most precious things we can cultivate in life is self-awareness and the message in the bottle does not help self awareness. Knowing why we are choosing to live in a certain way or (re)acting to something is priceless, and we owe that to ourselves if we are committed to a happy and fulfilling life.

Hard to spot

It is amazing how we human beings, can easily get caught up with old habits and patterns. Once they become ingrained in our everyday life, it can be hard to spot them because we identify ourselves with them. These difficulties can be quite avoidable, if we are able to cultivate self-awareness.

Use lots of kindness and self-love

However, self-awareness must be cultivated with kindness and self-love. This way, we can make sure that we fully understand why some types of behaviour have a grip on us, accept and work with them. But it must be done always with kindness, self-acceptance and self-respect.

Self-awareness is not self-criticism

Self-awareness has nothing to do with destructive self-criticism, which is harmful and counterproductive. We need to connect with our truth and be aware of our self-talk.

Life is a continuously evolving process and whatever we learn to be true will help us move forward or hold us back in life. What messages is life sending to us? Can we understand them?

Are these messages in the bottle really part of us?

It is important to read those messages, knowing where they are coming from and if they are really part of us or just a learned behaviour. When it comes to the habit of alcohol consumption, for example, it pays to be aware what it is trying to tell us about ourselves.

What if we could read the message in the bottle?

When we do that work, it is easy to stop on the surface rather than diving deep. It can be challenging and scary at times. What if we think that there is a message in the bottle, waiting to be read and understood?

Editor’s Note

There are many ways to develop self-awareness, some of which we list below.

  1. Meditation can be very useful. Click here for more details

2. Understanding how your childhood is affecting your thinking can also help. Click here for more details.

In Vino Veritas or we tell the truth when drunk

Have you ever heard someone say In vino veritas on a night out? Maybe you’ve even said it yourself once or twice.

Because the idea that wine – and alcohol generally – are agents of truth-telling has deep roots in our culture.

We can’t help telling the truth in our cups?

In our books, on our stages, and on our screens, the character in his or her cups is represented as the figure who cannot help being authentic. The drink forces us to be honest, we cannot tell a lie.

Drink tricks us into believing the worse of ourselves

Drink, or so the story goes, makes us bear witness against ourselves. It forces us to reveal uncomfortable truths that we would prefer to keep hidden.

By claiming to dare to go where we are reluctant to go voluntarily, in other words, it tricks us into believing that what we suppress about ourselves – our darkest secrets – are who we really are.

Too much drink stops us living our best lives

But this account is both misleading and incomplete. It does not capture us in all our varieties and colors.

In claiming to have exposed us, it tries to stop us being more imaginative.

In claiming to know what sort of people we really are, it seeks to prevent us from exploring all the versions of ourselves that we might choose to become.

We have many parts

We all have a repertoire of things we think and feel, which we cannot quite bring ourselves to say.

These are a part of who we are. But they are only a part. And they are no more authentic than the part of ourselves that gives to charity and remembers to call our mother on the weekend because we love to hear the sound of her voice.

We are all the hidden, decaying portrait of Dorian Gray.

But we are also the Venus de Milo.

We are our child’s crayon drawing that we display, with pride, on the family refrigerator.

Does in vino veritas make us believe we are monsters?

In vino veritas’ would have us believe that, deep down, we are all monsters and villains, that what we really want is to get loose, to tear the world – and one another – apart.

But we are more than that, so much more.

We are more than our fears

We are, each of us, more than a single story. We are more than a catalogue of our fears.

However, if we cannot always stop ourselves thinking the worst about ourselves (and other people), we deserve, at the very least, to give ourselves the chance to see that we are all so much better than we sometimes allow ourselves to believe. As Lucy discovered when she stopped drinking, she was better than she thought.

Ruby says alcohol was holding her back

Ruby Warrington had it all, but felt something was holding her back. The former features editor of the Sunday Times Style magazine, founder of a digital platform called The Numinous was part of the in crowd. She hung out with celebrities and superstars drinking cocktails and champagne.

Everyone else was drinking

Ruby says she drank because everybody else was drinking and alcohol was presented as a tool to help her deal with life. From the age of just 15, Ruby says she was teaching her brain that she needed alcohol to cope.

My head hurt from drinking

Ruby never hit rock bottom or had any major life event. She just found on Sundays her head hurt, her stomach was sore, her tongue felt furry, and her hair felt both greasy and dry with her breath sour. On Sundays she felt like there was a hollow where her heart should be.

She decided to quit for a while

She decided alcohol was holding her back and quit for a while. She found she had more energy and motivation. Her relationships got better because she felt she was now connecting on a real human level not just through an alcohol haze.

It’s terrifying

Ruby says if we’ve been drinking our entire adult life, it’s a big part of our lives and giving up drink is terrifying. She believes as long as we hold a belief that alcohol just brings pleasure and joy, it remains in our lives. We agree. It’s why it is so important to understand our beliefs about alcohol and the pros and cons of our drinking.

She believes moderation does not work. We don’t agree, as everybody is different. See why here

Ruby’s useful tips

Ruby says don’t make a big deal of not drinking when you’re out. Offer to get the first round in and then you can buy yourself a soft or alcohol free drink without fuss. A useful tip.

She also suggests not to lie about why you’re not drinking. She tells people it makes her feel like crap and this works for her. Personally, I find it does not work for me, even though I had a major life threatening illness. People still want you to drink.

 Maybe it’s part of our Irish culture.

Sober curious

Ruby has written a book called

Sober Curious, the blissful sleep, greater focus, limitless presence and deep connection awaiting us all on the other side of alcohol”.

It’s getting good reviews and now she’s running a retreat in the US.

What is sober curious?

Apparently calling yourself sober curious means you know alcohol doesn’t make you feel great and you don’t drink it often, but you’re not willing to put an all-or-nothing label on yourself. So you only drink on rare occasions when you actually want to drink.

I like this idea of sober curious because it’s not black and white. It allows people to choose when and where they drink rather than drinking all the time or not drinking at all.

Where celebs go others follow

It’s good to see another celeb talking about their relationship with alcohol holding them back. Ruby joins other celebs not drinking like Nigella Lawson, Natalie Portman, Demi Lovato, Shania Twain, Jennifer Lopez to name just a few. Hopefully they are starting a trend that others will follow. Would n’t it be lovely if it was socially acceptable to just say I’m sober curious and leave it at that?

Alcohol Free pub opening in Ireland

So incredibly an alcohol free pub is planned for Dublin. It’s opening up in February. Amazing news. They have a couple of alcohol free pubs in England, but this is the very first time in Ireland that a whole pub is dedicated to being alcohol free.

It’s a real alcohol free pub

Apparently it will look like a real bar and have a real pub atmosphere. It won’t be just another coffee shop. Unlike a normal bar, they don’t need a security guard and closing time is a strict 11pm.

They’ll have beers, wines, and cocktails which are all alcohol free.

Cocktails anyone?

 Cocktails will include

 Virgin Mary,

Made from tomato juice, a Dublin made hot sauce, de alcoholised white wine, lime, celery pickle, Virgin Mary spice mix.

Tiki Street

Made from pomegranate molasses, hibiscus, de-alcoholised red wine, allspice, vanilla, lime black cardamom,

Dessert, Anyone

Made from seedlip spice, date, tahini, rose, oat milk, dark chocolate.

These look really interesting and not your usual boring old mineral waters or fizzy drinks.

 The name is a problem

Maybe it’s just me as a lapsed Catholic, who has also worked with a service for survivors of clerical abuse, but I really hate the name of this alcohol free pub. It’s called the Virgin Mary.  This country has suffered so much from a church with distorted toxic attitudes to sexuality. A church which praised virginity while married women after childbirth had to be “cleansed” before going back to Mass. And if you were not married and became a parent you were sent to what was an effective prison. (If you were a woman, of course- nothing happened to men)

So while the founders may think the name is catchy and attention grabbing, (which it is) it is very insensitive to women and blind to our sad and tragic history.

Price of drinks

Apparently the price of drinks will be the same as alcohol drinks. It will be interesting to see whether this will put people off. Recently in the Irish Times Nollaig O’Ceallaigh, complained about a pint of smithwicks being €4.90, while a small bottle of non-alcoholic heineken was €5.90! We’ve also had people emailing us on this price issue.

Alcohol free pubs everywhere?

So last year we talked to the Vintners Federation of Ireland asking why there were not cheaper and more alcohol free drink options available for people. They said people expect non-alcoholic drinks to be cheaper than alcoholic drinks. Also pubs will only stock drink where there is huge demand. As we know huge demand is driven by big marketing and advertising campaigns and these are only starting to happen. So at the moment your regular pubs are not interested in stocking a wide range of alcohol free drinks.

 So will this alcohol free pub be successful?

It’s being led by one of the founders of Funky Seomra, the alcohol free pop up nightclub so they certainly have the right experience. They are also good at getting the news out there. But ultimately it will come down to getting enough paying customers in the door so hopefully this will happen. We’ll certainly be trying it out and we’ll report back.

We wish this alcohol free pub the very best of Irish luck. Hopefully this is just the start of a new drinking culture in Ireland which will make it easier for us all not to drink as much.

If you’d like to read more about this pub we found out about it here in the Sunday Business Post. (Subscription needed)

How will the Alcohol bill affect Irish drinking?

Last week we described how the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which aims to reduce Irish drinking was delayed yet again.

 

Good news at last

Well the good news is this week, after another long winded debate the bill actually passed thought the Dail. There was even a round of applause after the bill passed.

A small number of TD’s attempted to delay the bill yet again. Many with personal connections to the alcohol industry.

 

Reducing Irish drinking

Minister for Health, Simon Harris said:

“This is the first time in the history of our State we have endeavoured to use public health legislation to address issues in relation to alcohol. It is therefore a ground-breaking measure.

“For the very first time in our history we are legislating for alcohol as it affects our health and it is right and proper that we do that.

“We know that we have a relationship with alcohol in this country that is not good, that damages our health, harms our communities, and harms many families,” he said.

“The measures in this bill will make a real difference to change the culture of drinking in Ireland.”

 

How will this affect me?

So how will this affect drinkers?  Well, there will be health warnings on alcohol and alcohol will have to be sold in a separate part of the shop.

The biggest impact though is something called minimum unit pricing.

What this means is the price of alcohol will be related to how strong the alcohol is.

To set the minimum price for a particular alcohol product, you find how much the drink weighs in alcohol strength and multiply it by 10 cent. The Bill uses a specific formula.

 

A bottle of wine will be €7.10

So taking a bottle of wine of 750ml with 12% strength.

That would give

750 *.12 * .789 (figure specified in bill) which gives 71.01.

Multiply this by 10 cents and it gives a price of €7.10

So retailers won’t be able to sell this bottle of wine for less than this. It will mean selling wine below cost  as a discount sales offer can’t happen.

 

A bottle of vodka will be €20.71

Taking a bottle of vodka say, 700 ml and 37.5% strength. This would give

700 * .375 * .789 giving 207.11.

Multiply this by 10 cents gives €20.71.

So this will be the minimum price of vodka. While vodka’s normal price is €25 and upwards, there are often special offers which reduces the price below this. You can even get it free sometimes as seen below.

irish drinking

Check out your tipple of choice

So using the formula you can now calculate how much minimum unit pricing is going to affect you. If you drink mainly in a pub or wine bar it’s unlikely to have any effect. If you normal pay €12 euro for a bottle of wine, you won’t pay more. However all those special deals for low priced drinks will disappear. No more €4 euro bottles of wine which were €12 euro.

 

Minimum unit pricing is pretty clever

A basic law of economics is the lower the price the more people will buy. (Except when it’s something like a designer handbag which has appeal because it is so expensive and exclusive)

So what minimum unit pricing does is encourage people to buy alcohol with a lower alcohol strength because it will be cheaper.

Young people tend to buy the cheapest alcohol because they  have less  money. People with a drinking problem tend to buy the cheapest alcohol because they drink so much.

So now  these groups will tend to buy lower strength alcohol as it will be cheaper. Lower alcohol strength means less harm. So minimum unit pricing is pretty clever as unlike excise duties it targets people who tend to drink too much.

 

Can the minimum unit price change?

The aim of the bill is to reduce Irish drinking to levels suggested by the World health Organisation.

irish drinking

So if  Irish drinking  does not fall, the Bill gives the Minister the power to review the minimum unit price in 3 years’ time.

 

A final word

We got some fairly aggressive emails for our support for the bill.  Shows the level of support for our alcohol culture. But we also got some lovely emails thanking us for campaigning for the bill. So thanks to those people. You know who you are.

 

 

 

Do overgrown hedges kill more people than drinking and driving?

Overgrown hedges kill more people than drinking and driving! At least that’s what you believe if you listened to the media coverage of TD Michael Healy Rae protesting about the proposed introduction of stricter drink driving laws. He argues overgrown hedges are a more important factor in road traffic accidents than drink driving.

 

Healy Raes always oppose stricter drinking and driving standards

The Healy’s Rae’s are long time opponents of stricter drinking and driving rules arguing pubs are

“a place in the community where people could come together, play a game of cards, have a bit of enjoyment and have a drink or two”

Why are they so opposed to reducing the harm that alcohol causes?  Alcohol kills more people than illegal drugs or road traffic accidents. There are no figures for the number of people killed by overgrown hedges.

 

The media love sound bites

The Healy Rae’s are experts in creating soundbites that the media love.  Despite the image they deliberately create of “country bumpkins”, they are intelligent, skilled, communicators and smart businessmen. They use individual personal stories to make emotional points supporting their arguments and don’t look at the overwhelming scientific evidence.

Recently TD Danny Healy Rae stated that human global warming is a myth.

“God above is in charge of the weather and that we here can’t do anything about it”

While a number of scientists challenged this view, nobody in the media challenged the Healy Rae view that rural social life will be destroyed because of stricter laws on drinking and driving. Nobody asked why it is so essential to always drink alcohol in pubs?

 

The Healy Raes have a clear conflict of interest

With one exception nobody challenged the Healy Raes on the fact that they have a clear conflict of interest. The Healy Rae family own a pub, the Jackie Healy Rae Bar in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. Danny Healy Rae has even been convicted of serving people after hours.(full story here)

If people are not allowed to drink and drive, less people go to the pub because we believe we only go to the pub for alcohol.  Less drinkers reduces the profit that pubs make. So it’s not surprising the Healy Raes are against tougher drink driving laws.

 

Why can Cavan pubs provide a free taxi service?

In Cavan, forward looking pub owners provide a free taxi service for their customers and it seems to work well. Apparently though in Kerry “this is difficult”.  So what works in Cavan can’t work in Kerry.

 

Why can’t we go to the pub without drinking and driving?

There seems to be a widespread belief that going to the pub involves drinking alcohol.  Why is that?

Is it that we can’t talk to other people without alcohol?  Or that we believe we can only have fun when we’re drinking?

Or is it that many pubs appear more dingy when we’re not drinking. The shocking state of some pub toilets is more obvious when we’re not drinking.

Or is it the really poor range of non-alcoholic drinks in pubs?

In London, there is a bar which only serves non-alcoholic drinks. Can’t see that happening here anytime soon!

Is it beyond us to keep the good things about our pubs,meeting pals, the friendliness, craic and enjoyment while drinking non-alcoholic drinks?

 

Rural Life is being destroyed

Rural life is being destroyed. But not by stricter drink driving rules.  We’re not joining the dots between loneliness, drinking and suicide.

Instead, we keep making lots of  strategies and not implementing them.  Just one example, 15 years ago I was part of a team working to provide broadband in rural areas.  To-day many rural areas still don’t have broadband which is essential for all businesses. So business which could base themselves in a rural area, don’t because there is no broadband.

The development of our Lifewise training courses took much longer because Valerie lives in a part of Mayo where the broadband is really really poor. It meant it could take hours to upload videos and podcasts and often the PC would just crash and she would have to start again from scratch.

TD’s should prioritise actions for growing rural communities, promoting health and reducing the harm caused by alcohol abuse which kills three people every day.

 

Improve health & community and support our local pubs

A great example of a rural project is the woodlands for health project where people with mental health difficulties come together to walk in nature. Can publicans work  with Coilte or their local community group to sponsor community walks  and bring walkers for a cup of tea or coffee to their pubs at the end of each walk?  We have such beautiful countryside why not make more use of it and reduce our high levels of suicide, isolation and mental distress?

Finally when arguing against proposed actions to reduce alcohol harm TD’s should always disclose they have pub or alcohol industry interests in every interview.

If you’d like to read more about drink driving please click here

David ruined the wedding drinking too much

A relative of mine ruined a family wedding  drinking too much. Let’s call him David. He got too loud, too boisterous, too aggressive. Arguments were had. Tears were shed.

 

Everyone was upset including David

The next day everyone was very upset. David was remorseful, cloaked in shame and regret. Those affected were in turn angry and saddened. David was ignored for a  while.
At the time, David admitted to me,  he was using drinking as a crutch. He  was using alcohol (self-medicating) to get  through a difficult time.   He was picking up the bottle rather than visiting a  GP or a counsellor.

 

David stopped drinking and people were supportive – at first

When people learned  David had stopped drinking in an attempt to address the problems that had caused the excessive drinking, everyone was very supportive. For a time. Soon it was Christmas and people began to ask if he would be having a drink. They  expressed surprise, disappointment even, when he said no.

Was he sure he didn’t want a drink?

Just one?

These were the same people who had been so disgraced by his alcohol induced behaviour at the wedding.

 

Relatives bought a crate of beer as a gift

After some time, David felt able to start drinking again, in smaller amounts, and usually just at home. When his birthday came around, relatives bought him a crate of beer as a gift. Relatives who had been at the wedding and had been appalled at his behaviour.

 

We need to support people who are trying to drink less

We need to see that posts on Facebook about ‘wine o’clock’ normalise binge drinking. We need to understand that giving alcohol as a gift can lead to drinking to excess. We need to support people who are trying to drink less.

wedding drinking

we need to stop the

‘ ah, go on you will’

Mrs Doyle inspired method of offering people a drink. We need to understand  celebrations and alcohol need not go hand in hand.

We have made many steps forward in our attitudes towards drinking. But we still need to exercise caution. Most of all we need to listen and support those who are making the brave step of trying to reduce their drinking.

 

 

Editors Note

This story really shows why it can be so difficult to drink less in Ireland.

If you’re worried about going to a wedding drinking too much, you’ll find some free good advice here.

Yesterday,  the official reports show Irish drinking has increased in 2016. So we’ve a long way to go. See here for details.

 

The better way to survive long hours. Become a working week teetotaller

Teetotaller Martin Mc Guinness’s decision to step down because of health issues has been widely covered. Whatever your politics when even Ian Paisley Junior praises him, you have to accept he has made a big contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The life of a politician means very long hours and is very health and family unfriendly.

A friend who was once a politician told me people expect you to be available all of the time. Even on Christmas day for the most mundane of matters. It got to her eventually. As did the amount of time spent in endless meetings where she felt nothing was really achieved.

 

Long hours don’t mean results

I think working constant long hours is one of the reasons why so many of our big problems are not being solved. From homelessness, mortgage arrears and mental health to  hospital waiting lists.  People working very long hours tend to lose the ability to question the status quo. They don’t  notice something’s badly wrong. In the politicians case they seem to be disconnected from the reality of many people’s lives. Their acceptance of salary increases  and failure to see the Dail and Seanad needs urgent reform. (Watch or read any Dail proceeding and it will prove this point)

 

Coping with long hours by drinking

Strangely, given they are in the public eye, we’ve seen plenty of examples of drunk politicians. Remember when this politician pulled another politician into his lap in the Dail?  Or the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen infamous “Garglegate” appearance on Morning Ireland where he appeared to be hungover. The interview went viral and did not help our image of being  drunken paddies.

 

It’s incredible that our Dail has not one but two bars providing subsidised alcohol. Maybe many of our politicians cope with the long hours by drinking too much? Perhaps this is why our politicians are refusing to see the benefits of the proposed alcohol bill. Most of them are being fooled by alcohol industry lobbying and putting profits ahead of the lives of the three people drying every day from alcohol problems.

 

I drank more when working long hours

I know when I worked seventy to eight hour weeks my ability to make good decisions became weaker and weaker. I drank more. It was a way of getting instant relaxation and rewarding myself after a long hard day. I never drank too much. Not because I’m a saint or anything, but because I get horrible hangovers all too easily. So I decided to become a teetotaller during the week. It did make a difference to my ability to get through work, but ultimately I had to leave that job. I had plenty of money, but low quality of life and my health was being affected.

 

A tragic example of the impact of long hours

A really tragic example of the impact of long hours is the Stewart/Conroy case where a consultant noted incorrectly that the left kidney was to be removed on a then eight year old boy rather than the diseased right kidney. Despite the parents raising concern on four different occasions, the operating doctor removed the healthy kidney, without reviewing the X-rays.

Both doctors worked very long hours of up to 80 hours a week. Both come across as caring and responsible professionals who immediately admitted the mistake. The Medical Council still  does not appear to have addressed the issue of doctors working long hours though.

 

Airline pilots not allowed to drink for 8 hours

Officially airline pilots are not allowed to drink less than 8 hours before their shift starts. However many airlines impose a 12 hour rule, such is their concern over the impact of alcohol.

Now most of us don’t have jobs, like the surgeons or pilots where one little mistake can seriously injure or kill people, but  these examples show the serious  impact alcohol has on our ability to do our jobs properly.

 

Famous Teetotallers

As well as Martin Mc Guinness, one other  famous teetotaller includes ex Taoiseach Albert Reynolds RIP. a key player in the Northern Ireland peace process.  Very surprisingly, John Teeling the founder of  Cooley distillery whiskey is also a teetotaller.

 

Be a teetotaller during the working week

If you are working very long hours over an extended period of time, be aware your decision making ability is probably impaired.  Not just in your working life but in your personal life as well. Drinking while working long hours will make this worse.

If you’re stuck in a rut and don’t feel able to take action to change the long hours, do seek professional help. If this is not an option try to get some physical exercise.  Pick something you enjoy. Once a week is good and better than nothing.  However for real benefits, aim for  3 times a week.

Being a teetotaller, at least during  the working week  will also make those long hours easier to survive.