I know how alcohol can ruin your mental health. So why is it so rarely discussed?

This article on alcohol and mental health was in The Guardian in May.

It’s amazing to see the British finally begin to talk about our feelings. But even as we mark this year’s Mental Health Awareness week, there’s still an elephant in the therapist’s waiting room: alcohol.

The physical health risks of drinking are well known. Less discussed are the mental health consequences. These are real and significant, and seem to be getting worse. For instance, the number of people admitted to hospital with alcohol-related behavioural disorders has risen in the last 10 years by 94% for people aged between 15 and 59, and by 150% for people over 60.

Alcohol played a key part in my own problems but it took me years to come out of denial about it.

I never drank in the morning or in parks, just in a British way, bingeing along with, well, everybody else. I didn’t question it because no one else seemed concerned.

Presenting to therapists over the years with anxiety, patterns of self-destructive compulsive behaviour, swinging between thinking I was the most important and the most worthless person on the planet, they barely asked how much I was tipping down my neck. And it was a lot.

The more I drank to medicate my low self-esteem, the worse my anxiety got and the more I drank to dull it. Years passed and I couldn’t see I was stuck right in the classic “cycle of addiction”.

Eventually a friend of mine who had gone into Overeaters Anonymous sheepishly suggested I might have a problem. I resented it hugely. I was successful with a good job. There was no problem.

Eventually, it was a work incident that woke me up. As editor of Attitude magazine, I believed it would be culturally significant to have Harry Potter on the cover of a gay magazine. When Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry in the film franchise, agreed, the only gap in his schedule for a shoot was early on a Sunday morning, which was annoying. Saturday night was my favourite time to go out. But fine. I could do this.

I decided not to drink the day before. No wine at lunch, nor during the play I went to see, and then straight home. All went well. Just as I was about to go to bed, ready for the shoot the next day, curiosity got the better of me and I logged on to a dating site, just to check my messages.

The next thing I remember was waking up, empty cans everywhere, with a bunch of messages on my phone asking where I was. Daniel and his publicist couldn’t have been nicer when I arrived with my lame excuse, insisting I go home to bed and that the shoot would be OK, and he found time later in the week to do our interview. Disaster was averted but it was the wake-up call I needed.

Since finally giving up alcohol, I’ve learned many things. First, that addiction is everywhere. That it is not about the drinking (or whatever the substance is), but the feelings underneath. Usually there is some kind of childhood trauma that needs to be addressed. I’ve learned that it isn’t about when or where you drink but about whether you can easily stop once you’ve started. I’ve also learned that there is an astonishing lack of understanding about addiction in general, not just from the public but sometimes by professionals who, being human too, often have their own issues to deal with.

The positive news is that despite alcohol being a socially acceptable carnage-causing drug that is pushed on us from an early age, it too is beginning to be talked about less furtively. Brad Pitt spoke in an interview last week about his struggles, Colin Farrell recently spoke on Ellen about being 10 years sober. Daniel Radcliffe himself has spoken about his problem drinking.

Last year I did another interview, with Robbie Williams and singer John Grant talking about their life-saving experiences of recovery from alcohol, drugs and sex addiction – and this time, I wasn’t late for it. Studies continually show a link between alcohol abuse and violence, domestic abuse and suicide, so talking about it is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

The British drink too much. Alcohol must be next on the mental health agenda.

Completely agree Matthew!

11 thoughts on “I know how alcohol can ruin your mental health. So why is it so rarely discussed?

  1. Perhaps we Brits drink because we don’t know how to process/deal with difficult emotions or situations. And over-drinking is a difficult situation, that we don’t know how to deal with…

  2. Wow I saw so much of myself in this piece. Applies to the U.S as well! xx

    1. Let’s hope it starts conversations on both sides of the pond then Lori! xx

  3. This blog post and movies like Flight are so important in the discussion about alcohol and its detrimental use in pain avoidance. Carl Jung said that all mental illness is based on the avoidance of dealing with our pain. The stigma of admitting I was an alcoholic kept me away from AA for decades. Finally, I realized that I had a living problem and a drinking solution. I hope that you and all us who blog about alcoholism will continue to be driven by the crucial mission to bring awareness about alcoholism to the public and to encourage those who are still suffering to seek recovery.

    1. Agreed RJ Handley about the use of different mediums to explore the issue of alcohol as self-medication to avoid pain – in my case emotional pain. I love your expression – ‘living problem and drinking solution’ 🙂

  4. YES to all!!!! The one therapist who finally brought the subject up with me? At the time, I refused to discuss it so she let me go!
    PS – Guess what? I am 3 years sober today, on September 4!!

  5. Hello, it felt nice to read your blog and I completely agree with you that it is the urge or the feeling to stop after you start drinking; not where and when you drink. I was also alcoholic and have taken the pain to come out of it. So, I completely understand your condition and situations. We never know when we get addicted to it out of a liking towards drinking on occasions. I appreciate your efforts for coming out of your addiction. Keep it up.

    1. Hey Joey Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog 🙂 At approaching 4 years sober I fully intend to keep it up!

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