What’s the connection between alcohol and mental health?

Many people turn to alcohol to reduce stress and anxiety, calm nerves or forget about their troubles. There is a dangerously unhealthy connection between alcohol and mental health. Now we explore what's actually going on amongst the grey matter when we drink. 

The risk and impact of drinking on our mental health presents itself differently to different people, but while there are varying inter-relating dimensions, just taken as a body of information, we should all recognise the profound implications for our wellbeing when we drink. Even small amounts of alcohol can have a negative effect on mental wellbeing, such as lack of sleep, anxiety and mental fatigue.


But what's going on up there?

Alcohol affects the very basics of how our brain works. In particular, it impacts: 

  • Neurotransmitters - mainly GAMA
  • Neuromodulators - mainly dopamine
This essentially impacts the way information is communicated in our brain. One of the most relevant neurotransmitters is GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid). Despite a ton of activity going on in your brain, GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter bringing a bit of calm to your brain. When you drink, the alcohol stimulates the receptors for GABA making them even more chilled.

If there is a regular, heavy supply of alcohol your brain adapts by reducing GABA receptors to restore a better balance. But, this means that when you stop drinking you've got fewer GABA receptors to fire and 'relax' you. It's immediately clear how this can lead to high anxiety, nervousness, agitation and anger. 


And yet...people continue to drink. Why?

To answer this we have to look at the neuromodulator dopamine. Our brain recognises spikes in our dopamine as telling us 'hey, something really good just happened, we should remember this so we can try and repeat it!" Again, it's clear what's happening here and how this can lead to addiction. Even if you're not addicted, many of us have felt like we're "missing out" when we don't drink - we often think we're the unlucky ones.

Dopamine spikes mean that drinking encourages drinking....and actually, although drinking alcohol can temporarily boost serotonin levels, making you feel happier, in the long term, excess alcohol can actually lower serotonin levels, which can either cause or exacerbate depression. Not so unlucky now!

With all this 'up and down' of brain stimulation, it's not at all surprising that alcohol is inherently linked with all kinds of mental illness. 


Socialising and mental health

Those looking to cut back on drinking (either entirely, or in moderation) can find it incredibly hard to attend social events due the inextricable link between alcohol and socialising. However spending time with others has huge mental health benefits and socialising shouldn't suffer just because we are trying to cut down on alcohol consumption.


Sadly the drinks industry has been slow to respond with suitable alternatives. Alcohol-free drinks – alcoholic drinks with the alcohol removed, such as alcohol-free beer – are common, but don’t taste as good as the alcoholic versions. Soft drinks are not usually the answer either, being too sweet and child-like for many, not really fitting with adult social occasions.

The good news is that at ZAG we've identified this gap and pioneered a new drinks category called “Social Softs”. Social Softs do not copy alcoholic drinks - they are distinctive products in their own right, designed for “grown-ups” who want to socialise without alcohol. Their flavour is less sweet, more challenging than soft drinks, designed for adults with a more developed palette.

ZAG addresses the demand for a refreshing, non-alcoholic drink on social occasions when you want the mental wellness benefits of socialising but without the lasting negative affects that alcohol brings to the party.



This year we will be supporting 80Noir Ultra and Run The Edge as, together, we aim to raise money for 2 mental health charities: Mind Over Mountains and Active Minds.

You can get involved between now and the end of December 2022 by attempting to complete 853.5 miles through any other distanced-based activity; either alone or with a team of up to 10 people! Simultaneously, 80Noir Ultra will be traveling along the JOGLE route meeting with various communities and groups along the way to break down barriers on mental health and spread awareness on the connection between mental health and exercise. Find out more here: https://runtheedge.com/pages/jogle-challenge 


C&I - The unhealthy mix between alcohol and mental health

GoodTherapy - Alcohol and Anxiety: Not as Helpful as you Think


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