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24th Sep 2021

Feel like alcohol’s impacting your anxiety? You’re not alone

Sarah McKenna Barry

After a truly unprecedented year, the past few months have seen a staggered return to socialising over drinks.

We started with socially distanced outdoor pints back in spring, and as summer rolled in, we welcomed guests to our gardens, and mulled over drinks in public plazas.

As restrictions eased further, we indulged in proper drinks with table service, and when our vaccine certs arrived, it was back to the pubs.

As many eagerly await a full reopening of the nightlife sector, it’s also perfectly reasonable to have reservations about embracing pre-pandemic levels of partying.

The staggered reopening brings new circumstances to adapt to, and new anxieties as well. Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, and if you find yourself dealing with new levels of “hangxiety” after a night of drinking, you’re certainly not alone.

While it’s not a medical term, hangxiety is one many of us, myself included, can relate to. As a depressant, alcohol has a definite impact on our mental health, and can leave us feeling a combination of anxious and depressed. And, while many drink to temporarily ease their anxieties, in the long-term alcohol consumption can make our anxiety even worse.

According to the HSE, alcohol can affect our sleep, intensify negative emotions, increase stress and prevent us from developing healthy coping mechanisms.

When these factors are coupled with the reality of living in a global pandemic, it’s no wonder we feel the way we do after particularly heavy nights.

Another reason why our hangxiety might be more rough than usual, could be down to our drinking levels. Figures from DrinkAware’s 2021 barometer indicate that there was an 11% rise on pre-Covid in Irish adults who are drinking on at least a weekly basis. On top of that, half of 18-24 year-olds report that they are drinking on at least a weekly basis. In 2020, this figure was at 38%.

In terms of binge drinking, there has been a year-on-year increase on already high levels. According to the 2021 barometer, 22% of Irish adults binge drink typically, while in 2020, this figure stood at 20%.

Moreover, there is indeed a link between our mental well-being and excessive alcohol consumption. The barometer found that 43% of people found that low mental well-being peaked as their alcohol consumption increased. Worryingly, coping is often cited as a key driver in increased alcohol consumption with two thirds of current drinkers saying that they frequently drink as a coping mechanism.

Having said that, there are some positives to take away from DrinkAware’s barometer. For instance, 35% of respondents said that since Covid, their drinking has decreased. Meanwhile, one in three adults have indicated that they’d like to drink less often, and 37% have said that they’d already made positive changes with regards to their alcohol consumption.

If you are concerned about how your drinking is impacting your mental health, help and support is available. DrinkAware have fantastic resources online, as do Alcohol Action Ireland. Additionally, you can talk to your GP or local health professional, and you can phone the HSE Drugs and Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459.