• Tena Davies

Impact of alcohol and recreational drugs on mental health

Consuming alcohol and taking recreational drugs can have a significant impact on our mental health. Alcohol and drug consumption impacts a person by changing the balance of chemicals in the brain that helps us to think, feel and make decisions. As well, the use of alcohol and drugs can leave a person feeling agitated, flat and unmotivated. In my experience, those who report alcohol and drug use also report a decrease in healthy behaviours (exercise, achievement, healthy eating, good sleep) that protect mental health. The result being increased levels of depression and anxiety.


Depressants such as alcohol, heroine and inhalants can lower your mood. Over time depressants also lowers the serotonin (the feel good chemical) secreted in the brain that helps you regulate your mood. Regular drinking can make anxiety and depression worse due to upsetting the balance of neuro chemicals and the decrease in seratonin. Depressants such as alcohol can also decrease the quality of a person's sleep despite it making them feel sleepy. This is because it interferes with the sleep cycle.

Stimulants Stimulants such as methamphetamines and ecstasy can in the short term increase a person's drive and motivation. However, they may leave an individual feeling flat and agitated increasing their negative psychological symptoms. Over time, stimulants can exacerbate depression, anxiety, memory and concentration.

What to do instead Instead of consuming alcohol and/or recreational drugs use other strategies to manage stress. These can include exercise, learning relaxation and mindfulness, developing more effective problem solving skills, and learning skills to manage rumination. If you are using alcohol and drugs to mask worries try to work through these with someone you trust. If that hasn't worked seek advice from a registered Psychologist.

In my practice As a Psychologist, I assess self care and lifestyle factors such as alcohol/drug consumption to determine if these factors are exacerbating a person's mental health. Where this is the case I work with the individual to develop alternative coping strategies. That being said, I do not treat addictive disorders where this is the primary cause of a person's distress. In this instance,  I refer to drug and alcohol programs.

Article written by Tena Davies, Psychologist. The aim of this article is to give you ideas on well being. Please note this article is not intended to replace therapy.

Tena Davies is a Psychologist based in inner city Melbourne. Tena has expertise in psychological counselling with adolescents and adults. She also works as a cyber expert providing cyber safety education to schools and professionals. As a Psychologist, Tena believes in helping clients to gain insight into their difficulties and teaching them new skills to grow and thrive. Please see for more information.