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Smoking and drinking alcohol can worsen your mood and fuel anxiety – tips to improve how you feel for World Mental Health Day

QUITTING smoking and cutting down on alcohol can give your mental health a lift – that’s the message for World Mental Health Day (10th Oct).


Around in 1 in 6 people will have experienced a common mental health problem in the last week, especially anxiety and depression   - but the fact is that both drinking alcohol and smoking can make things worse.


Evidence shows:

• Stopping smoking can improve mood and mental health in just SIX WEEKS.  Studies show smokers who’ve quit for a year are happier than current smokers   …while the improvements in anxiety and depression among people who quit smoking are at least as effective as taking anti-depressants.

• Regularly drinking alcohol can worsen symptoms of many mental health problems. In particular, it can lead to poor sleep, low mood and worsen feelings of anxiety, especially for people who find themselves drinking every day.


Prof Eilish Gilvarry, consultant psychiatrist in Addictions at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The last 18 months have been among the most worrying and stressful many of us will have ever known, and we have seen some people smoking and drinking more as ways to try to cope.


“But alcohol and tobacco are both drugs which can have a negative effect on our mental health as well as seriously harming our physical health. Regular drinking can make us feel low, more tired and washed out, while anyone who smokes will know the feeling of tension and anxiety building every time you feel you need a cigarette.


“Whatever is happening in your life, breaking free from smoking and cutting down on drinking can make you feel calmer and happier, save you money and also bring a sense of achievement.”


Prof Gilvarry has worked with Fresh and Balance in a number of short videos aimed at encouraging people to see how much better they can feel by cutting back on alcohol and quitting smoking – WATCH Smoking, Anxiety and Stress Alcohol, Anxiety and Depression.


Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, said: “There are lots of ways to improve mental health but alcohol and tobacco do often get overlooked. There are strong links between poor mental health, smoking and alcohol consumption.


“Smoking and drinking can sometimes go hand-in-hand and one can often lead to the other. Stopping smoking and reducing your alcohol intake brings immediate benefits to your physical health and, in the longer term, helps to improve your mental wellbeing – ultimately making you happier.


She added: “People with poor mental health die on average 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population, and smoking is the biggest cause of this life expectancy gap. The thought of stopping smoking can be daunting but there is lots of support out there from stop smoking services to nicotine replacement therapies, e-cigarettes and apps. For anyone thinking about quitting, just go for it, it’s the best thing you’ll ever do for your physical and mental health.”


Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Balance, said: “We know that many people drink because of the belief it will help manage stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. If people are reaching for a drink most nights, alcohol consumption will creep up, which can have serious health consequences and make us feel more tired, anxious and sluggish in the short term.


“We often under-estimate how much we are drinking, so that is why we are encouraging people to take more drink-free days and to stay within the low risk drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units a week. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, it has never been more important to keep our minds and bodies fit and healthy.”


The facts:

Smoking and mental health


• Some people smoke as ‘self-medication’ to ease feelings of stress. However, research has shown that smoking actually increases anxiety and tension.

• A review found people who stop smoking that quitting for at least 6 weeks may improve their mental wellbeing, by reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.

• Partly a result of high smoking rates, people with a health condition die earlier on average, with smoking is the single largest contributor to their 10-20-year reduced life expectancy.

• For people with mood or anxiety disorders, the impact of quitting smoking is at least as effective as taking anti-depressants  .


Alcohol and mental health

• Alcohol is sometimes used by people to try and help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, but excessive drinking is likely to make those symptoms worse

• According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, regularly drinking alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain and can increase the risk of depression. Increased consumption can also affect our sleep, make us feel more tired and sluggish, and trap people in a cycle of feeling low and more anxious.

• Post-drinking hangovers can be particularly difficult, with the usual headache and nausea being accompanied by feelings of depression and/or anxiety

• People who have done Dry January often talk about feeling more positive and alert.

• Sticking to the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk guidelines of no more than 14 units a week can help – that’s about six pints of beer or lager or six standard glasses of wine.


Source – Action on Smoking and Health