Montreal, April 18, 2011 – The temptation to drink excessively or in an uncontrolled manner can be strong under certain circumstances, such as during a stressful situation, an unfortunate event, a death or a separation. A new Éduc’alcool publication reminds us why it is particularly important to be careful during those times and, above all, to avoid self-medication.
Éduc’alcool strongly advises people not to drink to drown their sorrows or make themselves feel better, as alcohol is not a medication and the stores that sell it are not pharmacies. This is the main message conveyed by the latest addition to Éduc’alcool’s “Alcohol and Health” series.
The new publication, “Alcohol and Mental Health,” examines the strong connection between mental health problems and problem drinking. It explains why people who suffer from mental health disorders must be particularly careful about drinking, it discusses how drinking can sometimes even lead to mental disorders, and it provides information on services available to those who need them.
For the vast majority of people, there is no direct relationship between drinking and psychological health, and alcohol causes no particular problems. But for people with mental disorders, drinking can be very problematic. In fact, it’s an issue for a large number of Quebecers.
The statistics are dramatic: over the course of a lifetime, about 60% of the population will experience a period of great stress or a traumatic event. For some, this trauma will cause long-term stress. In fact, nearly one Quebec adult in ten suffers from chronic stress.
What’s more, almost one quarter of Quebecers will suffer from a mood or anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. That’s a total of more than 1.3 million people.
The use of psychotropic medications is widespread in Quebec. About 16% of adults have taken them at least once—prescribed or not—in the last 12 months. The most commonly used medications are for sleep disorders, anxiety and depression, in that order. The use of anti-depressants is on a sharp rise.
In 2005, Quebec physicians wrote 7.5 million prescriptions for anti-depressants. From 2000 to 2004, almost one fifth of Quebecers took anti-depressants for at least a year.
A strong correlation
Numerous studies confirm the frequent association between mental health problems and alcohol abuse or dependence.
Fifteen to twenty percent of people with mental disorders have substance abuse problems, while more than 50% of people diagnosed with generalized anxiety also have substance abuse problems.
Quebecers who acknowledge having had a mood or anxiety disorder at some point in their lives are three times more likely to have a problem with alcohol dependence than others. Those who report having been anxious or depressed in the last 12 months are four times more likely than others to have an alcohol dependence problem. Among anxiety disorders, panic disorder is the one most closely linked to alcohol dependence.
Alcohol abuse is particularly common among people who have impulse control disorders or are thrill seekers. And people who suffer from schizophrenia are three times more likely than others to have a drinking problem.
Beware of self-medication
People with mental disorders often drink alcohol for its soothing properties, in an attempt to make themselves feel better. This practice is known as self-medication. People in distress will drink to escape their pathological condition, or at the very least to attenuate their symptoms. In other words, they do not self-medicate in order to remedy a particular disorder, but to combat the suffering, sadness, anger or agitation it causes.
A small amount of alcohol may bring short-term stress relief, but alcohol does not treat any of the causes of the stress. Over the long term, people who self-medicate need increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to feel the psychological benefits. This creates a habit, which leads to increased drinking, which could turn into dependence. A person with mental health problems who becomes dependent on alcohol is then caught in a vicious cycle in which each problem sustains and even aggravates the other.
No one should ever try to treat a problem or unpleasant feelings with alcohol. While alcohol does reduce inhibitions and procure a certain sense of relaxation, it can have a very harmful effect under difficult circumstances. In times like those, people should ask for help, contact community services or seek the advice of a health professional.
Éduc’alcool hopes that this publication will be useful not only to those who suffer from mental illness, but also to the people who care about them. It serves to remind us that we are all vulnerable, that any kind of problem can affect any one of us, and that for all of us, moderation is always in good taste.
Where to get the publication
“Alcohol and mental health” can be downloaded from the Éduc’alcool website (www.educalcool.qc.ca). Free copies may also be obtained by calling 1-888-ALCOOL1. In addition, the publication is available in hospitals, CLSCs and SAQ outlets.