Don’t drink too much during schoolies celebrations

With Schoolies celebrations fast approaching, it is important to know the facts and risks about drinking, depression and anxiety.

For young people, drinking may seem like a good way to take their minds off things, particularly if they’re feeling depressed or anxious. But alcohol affects mental health as well as physical health.

Drinking can cause lots of short-term problems, including hangovers, headaches, feeling sick or vomiting, feeling dizzy or passing out. Being drunk can also lead to being aggressive and getting into fights, having unsafe sex, falls and physical injury, being vulnerable to assault and rape, and self-harming on impulse.

These problems and the risks of drink-driving are well known, but you may be less familiar with the links between alcohol and mental health. In many ways, alcohol and depression go hand-in-hand. Drinking, together with problems such as low self-esteem, can make young people much more likely to develop depression and anxiety – either as teenagers or when they are older.

As well, many young people who have depression and anxiety turn to drinking to try to deal with or block out the effects of these illnesses. Young men with depression are especially likely to try to make themselves feel better through drinking, rather than asking for help.

Young people who are anxious in social situations may also drink excessively to overcome their shyness. This can become a very unhealthy habit or long-term crutch for mixing socially, resulting in major health risks.

The problem is that alcohol only gives temporary relief from depression and anxiety, and actually makes the symptoms worse. Alcohol can also interfere with any medications young people may be taking.

New Australian guidelines on reducing the health risks from alcohol say that not drinking at all is the safest option for young people under 18 and that young people up to the age of 25 should also take care with alcohol. This is because young people are more likely than adults to come to harm from drinking which can also lead to brain damage and problems with alcohol later in life (National Health and Medical Research Council (2009) Australian Alcohol Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol).

Cutting back on alcohol
If you are concerned the amount of alcohol your child is drinking is making their depression or anxiety worse, or that they are just drinking too much in general, here is some advice you can offer them to help them cut back:

  • Try not to drink by yourself or when you’re feeling down or anxious.
  • Tell your friends you don’t want to have more than two drinks.
  • Leave early if you think you’ll drink too much.
  • Suggest somewhere else to go with your friends, like a movie.
  • If you’re worried what your friends might say, tell them you’ve got something on the next day and don’t want a hangover.
  • Avoid participating in buying rounds (shouts).
  • Switch to low-alcohol beers.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones.
  • Count your drinks and stop at a certain number.

Young people who drink to deal with depression and anxiety may also take other drugs that affect the mind, such as cannabis or ecstasy – and combining alcohol and other drugs is even more risky than alcohol alone.

All drugs have different effects on the brain and body, and these can interact in ways that are hard to predict. This interaction of substances can be harmful and perhaps, fatal.

For more information about drinking, depression and anxiety in young people, visit www.youthbeyondblue.com or call the beyondblue info line on 1300 22 4636.

Trained counsellors are available by phoning these 24-hour telephone counselling services: Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800. The Australian Drug Foundation website at www.adf.org.au is also a good source of information.

* This information is based on fact sheets from Youthbeyondblue.com and ReachOut.com

Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha
Source: youthbeyondblue