When to draw the line: the effects of alcohol on the brain
Mental illness is a sensitive topic that can carry stigma, whether from the media, the general public or ourselves.
On some campuses drinking can be considered an acceptable part of the overall college experience, but potential problems arise when students drink beyond responsible limits. Drinking to delusion, unconsciousness or blackout all qualify as exceeding responsible limits.
According to the Mayo Clinic, mental illness refers to numerous mental health conditions affecting “mood, thinking and behavior,” such as “depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.”
If someone is suffering from a mental illness and regularly consumes alcohol, the long-term effects will be substantially worse.
Individuals who turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication are often unaware of the lasting effects this substance can have. Alcohol can cause depression or an anxiety disorder when consumed in large quantities and individuals who already suffer from a mental illness risk worsening their condition.
According to Mentalhelp.net, the risk of developing a depressive disorder and bipolar disorder is 3.9 and 6.3 times higher among those with alcohol dependence as compared to those without it.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Delaware is a nonprofit organization that specializes in education, support and advocacy concerning mental health. Tykene Johnson, an intern at NAMI, believes the consumption of alcohol while battling a mental illness is the worst thing a person can do.
“Alcohol changes a person’s mood and enhances instability,” Johnson says. “An individual that is consuming alcohol while battling a mental illness will suffer from a decrease in decision- making and could potentially suffer from delusions as well.”
This organization has treated and housed more than 275 individuals living with serious and persistent mental illnesses in Delaware. Its wait limit can be from six-to-nine months to a year, according to Johnson. NAMI also holds support groups once a month where the individual is allowed to share their stories with others while free food and refreshments are provided.
Students at the university who are currently suffering from a mental illness can seek treatment at the Office of Student Wellness and Health Promotion. This on-campus resource provides support group meetings and general counseling.
Amy Richardson, the assistant director of the office, has noticed a trend that around the holidays — specifically Halloween and Saint Patrick’s Day — students begin abusing alcohol more. She believes students should seek help before their condition worsens.
“Our data shows that alcohol is the number one substance students tend to abuse. Some students come in struggling with a substance problem because alcohol is a temporary fix,” Richardson says. “Students build up a tolerance which can make their depression or anxiety worse and then the cycle continues. I advise students who are currently struggling to seek help, it doesn’t have to get to the extremes before you seek treatment.”
Richardson also advises students to take part in university activities or support groups that are offered on campus. Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) is a support-based and student- oriented group for university students that are actively working on their sobriety as well as students who have been impacted by addiction through their family and friends. This support group meets on a regular basis and offers students an outlet to express their frustrations and sobriety stories.
Alcohol awareness and sobriety are a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel, but it is achievable through perseverance and support. Lauren Gurtman, a sophomore elementary education major, advises students to seek help when they are struggling emotionally.
“Talk to someone, anyone that you think can help you,” Gurtman says. “Do not isolate yourself, find something you love to do. It gets better, trust me.”