During the past 7 years, since I stopped drinking, in fact, I have met and spoken to many interesting people who are/were/have been/had been batting the booze. You see, I studied my certificate in Peer Recovery Coaching and I wanted to assist people who are drinking, are worried about their drinking – and want to stop.
I have discovered many similarities between these people:
- I spoke to women mostly who were introverts and liked being at home alone
- They preferred to drink alone instead of with friends and family
- They were mostly in their 40s and 50s, in perimenopause so dealing with the combined stress of menopause and life changes
- Before they knew it, their drinking had passed one glass, two glasses, and had reached a bottle or 2 a night
- Their drinking masked fear, anger, loneliness, and sadness
- Their drinking caused guilt, shame, anxiety, self-hate, and depression
- They had lost touch with their values in life, their ‘raison d’etre’ (reason for being)
- They had low self-esteem and did not treat themselves ever to self-care.
It struck me that most of their drinking boiled down to mental health issues. Research into why people drink is fascinating. Everyone is unique and everyone has unique reasons, of course, but I have found much wisdom in the words, writings, musing, teachings, and science of Dr Gabor Mate.
Gabor Mate on Addiction and Trauma
According to Wikipedia, Maté’s approach to addiction focuses on the trauma his patients have suffered and he tries to address this in their recovery. In his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, Maté discusses the types of trauma suffered by persons with substance use disorders and how this affects their decision-making in later life.
Maté defines addiction as any behavior or substance that a person uses to relieve pain in the short term, but which leads to negative consequences in the long term. Without addressing the root cause of the pain, a person may try to stop but will ultimately crave further relief and be prone to relapse. By this definition, there are many things in modern culture that have the potential to become addictive such as gambling, sex, food, work, social media, and drugs…
He says a system that disregards, shuns, and commits people to facilities with no care and easy access to drugs just makes the problems worse. People who go through extremely traumatizing experiences often have problems and difficulties afterward. The seriousness of these symptoms depends on the person, the types of trauma involved, and the emotional support they receive from others. Everyone reacts differently to their personal traumas.
And this brings me to the subject of mental health. These two words say it all – mental health -is the wellness of our mental state. So that means how we think, feel and act – our mental, emotional and physical health all intertwined and integrated to make us healthy individuals. This healthy status quo starts when we are babies and continues into adulthood, through adolescence, through mid-life crises, and through old age.
Mental and Physical Health Connections
Bodies and minds cannot be viewed as separate; they influence each other and are part of each other. Think of how the spine is linked to the brain and all the nerves that travel from the brain, down the spine, and into the body. A sore back is often the effect of a mental problem. How we think affects how we feel, and how we feel affects how we think. And most of the time, we are so unaware of this relationship that we just go to the doctor and ask for a pill or medicine or ointment or something to take away the pain and not address the cause of the issue.
On that note, everything we eat and drink also affects our mental health. If you live on fast foods and sugar, you will end up being depressed because your immune system is not getting the nutrients it needs to function well. You will not be boosting your happy hormones and you will be neglecting your physical body in all ways, hence your mental state. People need good fresh foods and lots of exercise, and movement to be mentally and physically healthy.
Yes, food plays a major role in the body-mind connection for mental and physical health. The Newport Academy explains it like this:
“What goes into our body also impacts our mind and mental health. What we eat has the power to prevent or help reverse mental health challenges. … Moreover, specific nutrients have been linked to measurable positive outcomes in mental and emotional well-being… about 95 percent of serotonin, one of the primary hormones involved in mood and emotion regulation, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Sometimes called “the second brain” or “belly brain,” this enteric (intestinal-related) nervous system consists of some 100 million neurons sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the gut. Moreover, information travels mostly from the gut to the brain, rather than vice versa.”
Alcohol impacts this system tremendously causing dis-ease of the body, and mind! Let’s talk about alcohol. Alcohol and mental health. ‘What is the relation here?’ I hear you ask. Is alcohol natural? Is alcohol healthy?
And why do you have a drink at all? Is it because you are happy, sad, neutral, bored, angry, tired, or hungry? All of the above, tick. And when you have had a drink, or two or ten, how do you feel? Do you feel happy, sad, neutral, bored, angry, tired, or hungry? I bet you can tick off happy (for a while which then wore off), sad (it just got worse), angry (it just got worse), and tired (for a while, then continued the next day).
The thing is, alcohol does cause anxiety and this then causes depression. Depression reveals a mental health issue. According to the US National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (CDC), there is no single cause for mental illness. These things can contribute to mental health issues:
- “Early adverse life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse (for example, child abuse, sexual assault, witnessing violence, etc.)
- Experiences related to other ongoing (chronic) medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes
- Biological factors or chemical imbalances in the brain
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Having feelings of loneliness or isolation”.
See point four? Yes, alcohol.
Alcohol and Health
Alcohol consumption has increased during the last 3 uncertain years across the globe – Covid 19, lockdowns, and isolation for many thousands of people. Many thousands of people dead and gone thanks to Covid 19, leaving behind sad families and friends. Everyone has been affected in some way by this virus, be it directly or indirectly. Mental illnesses have soared and many people have been diagnosed with new mental illnesses where previously they were healthy individuals.
These are some mental illnesses:
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance abuse and dependence
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders
- And more …
Mental Health and Stigmas
People who stop drinking realize that they are navigating life according to a new sigma – the stigma of not drinking. Alcoholics are also stigmatized but they hang out with fellow drinkers to avoid this. If you want to be sober, suddenly you are judged for having been a drinker! These stigmas are often the cause of more sadness and mental instability. Society can be so cruel and not everyone can handle this.
Let’s look at some barriers to mental health treatment that people with mental illnesses face. Who do you call when you feel very depressed from a bad day at work? Who do you call when you have finished another bottle of wine and you are feeling really drunk? Luckily there is help out there. It just takes the call from you! But many people with mental health disorders simply do not get help. This can make their mental health get worse or their depression gets deeper.
D’Amore Mental Health notes that “struggling with mental health makes everything more difficult. School, work, and interpersonal relationships will all start to suffer as a result of poor mental health.”
And poor mental health, as discussed above, leads to poor physical health – some people get diabetes or cancer! Many people do not seek out help, or, if they do, they just don’t get access to it.
These are some of the barriers to mental health treatment:
- Lack of Awareness and Education – poor mental health is not the same thing as having a mental illness, but untreated mental health problems can eventually lead to mental illness. Children and teenagers need to know that mental illness can cause physical disease.
- Stigma and Shame – people fear ridicule and being shamed in front of others or made to feel different or weird in society. We all need to speak openly about what is happening e.g. “I drank 2 bottles of wine last night, I think I need help,” is a great start.
- Lack of money or ability – it is expensive to get treatment and to buy medicines and often there are queues, waiting times, and referrals.
- Prejudice in terms of race, sex, age, and status
What are you feeling now that you have read this blog on mental health? Does it make you squirm in your seat a bit or does it make you think of someone you know who has mental health issues? Have you been ill of late and have you looked at the real, deep underlying causes of this sickness? Take heed and get help. You are in the right place now if you are reading this!
Here are a few numbers to call if you need help in South Africa, for addiction or mental health issues:
International Addiction Education Provider (ACCSA)
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)
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