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Alcohol, mood and mental health

I am well aware this might be a controversial or uncomfortable topic for some - apologies.

About 18 months ago I went through a period of very poor emotional well-being; ultimately following a series of difficult weekends at home I self referred into an online NHS cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) service with quite severe depression. I was at the higher end of severity for what they could handle but being very motivated to engage with the CBT I began to put the sessions into practice and was able to rebuild my own state of mind and relationships with family. Ultimately I think the experience has given me greater insight and resilience and strengthened our marriage but I am always mindful of potential triggers for the spiral to start again.

Excess alcohol is certainly one of those triggers. At that time my interest in wine was out of control and acted as a form of escapism. I would usually drink half a bottle in a night, decant the other half and drink it the next night - doing this two day pattern almost continuously week after week. I rarely felt explicitly hungover but in retrospect I can see that the buildup of what is ultimately a depressant, combined with environmental stressors, had a profound impact. Most of what I was drinking was red southern Rhône or similar blends at 14.5%+. Unit wise I was probably averaging 24 - 28 per week which was high without necessarily being at a level which would on its own terms be viewed as highly problematic.

I have considered carefully whether I should stop drinking altogether. Programmes like One Year No Beer specifically cite mood and family relationships as improvements in those who quit. I have decided not to quit because I do get a huge amount of pleasure from my interest in wine but I have a two glass rule, ensure I have non drinking days and use the eto. I have also found my tastes changing and will less frequently reach for those heavy southern Rhônes - and as I drink more lighter wines I find I pick up the warmth of alcohol more readily when I do go back to them so am more careful with what I buy and drink. I know I am walking a fine line between a relaxing and pleasant glass and something else (and when I describe a wine as dangerously quaffable I really do mean it!) but at the moment this feels like the right thing. If I needed to stop drinking altogether for a personal or professional reason I would do so without any hesitation.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this except that I feel it is ground we haven’t really covered and whilst this is not written with any expectation that others want to share, I am sure there are others here are cognisant of the impact of alcohol on their mood and have taken similar steps or may be considering doing so. Mental health has a higher profile than ever but is under ever increasing strain - I think it’s important that we acknowledge the complex relationship between alcohol and wellbeing.

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Tricky subject, but definitely worth highlighting and discussing. Glad to hear you’ve found some kind of equilibrium.

I certainly drink far less alcohol now than I did ten or twenty years ago, and am happier for it, and enjoy it far more as a result; alcohol can definitely catalyse and exacerbate negative situations and feelings.

From a personal perspective, I’ve always found that the best medicine for me is physical exercise of some sort. Sweating it out always lifts my mood. It can be tough to fit it in between work and domestic life, but well worth it. And in my experience, everyone is a winner!

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Thank you for sharing this @Jcbl. I think the world in general and todays society places far more pressure on us than what it did to our parents and grandparents.
I see the choice available to my kids that I never had and the world placing increasing challenges on every one of us.
Handling everything our lives throw at us has to have an outlet. For me its increasingly been exercise. I am qualified personal trainer and worked at that many moons ago but have always had some element of exercise in my life. It helps me keep a balance of the ups and downs that in particular the past 6 months have thrown at me, but is also an escape and its totally MY time. I couldn’t do without it.
The abuse of alcohol or using it as a crutch has been wide spread in my extended family and that of my partners. We both like a drink and sometimes probably drink too much at a given occasion… usually when he comes ashore after being away for 4 or 6 weeks but its not common for us to be “drunk”.
Recognising there are mental health issue and doing something about it before a habit becomes an addiction is extremely admirable and I applaud you for standing up and doing something about the way you have been feeling. If more people did this, this country would be in a better place. Take a bow! You deserve it and I’m so pleased you can continue to enjoy the pleasure that good wine gives us all. xx

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You have been quite brave @jcbl to be so honest and I salute you for your interesting and heartfelt post. I feel sure we have all experienced times when alcohol in whatever form has not been good for us, and we all know that it is primarily a depressant drug with potentially harmful effects.

I am glad you have found a solution that is working for you and helping you to get back to ‘normal’. Life can be very challenging when we least expect it and it’s easy (and in our culture, expected??) that we reach for the bottle at those times.
I enjoy wine for many reasons and hope to do so for many years. I think I know what my limits are and how I enjoy my wine, but I guess what you’re saying is that can change and a pleasure becomes a danger?

Interestingly, the physical effects of alcohol are those most talked about, while the effects on mental health and wellbeing are less highlighted.
I think your post will be read and answered with interest @jcbl - thanks for raising it and I wish you well.

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As mental health work is my bread and butter - I join the others in saying - it’s been really brave of you @Jcbl to notice when things were getting out of hand for you, and to actively do something positive about changing that. And, of course, for sharing this with us here!

In my work with students of all ages, and in my work as a private counsellor (currently very much on a prolonged Sabbatical in order to maintain my own mental health!) I have seen what @Leah mentions: too many pressures on us as individuals, which are both relentless and unrealistic. High levels of distress and poor wellbeing with youngsters these days are showing no sign of decreasing, and we can’t ignore the political and social climate that exacerbate - if not create it in the first place.

Alcohol - like any other addictive substance - can become a crutch, and when you’re in it, it’s very difficult to judge how much is enough, and whether a negative pattern is emerging. There is also an element of ‘chasing the dragon’ with it - I often feel that glass number 3 is never as good or aesthetically pleasing as glass number 1 or 2. But there’s a search for a sort of oblivion, especially if we are in distress, or in pain (mental/physical/both).

Sounds like you noticed things in the right moment, and was pro-active in seeking support. That’s brave as well as wise, and I wish more people I work with and support could do this. I also agree that sometimes it’s better to learn to minimise/decrease consumption, rather than stop completely. Stopping something one can enjoy in moderation comes with its own narratives and challenges. The zeal of the convert is always a little suspect. Best to find the middle path when possible.

I hope the changes you made had made a real difference to you and your family.

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Thanks all. Yes I’ve found that exercise has made a really positive contribution as well. And on evenings I go to the gym it’s very unlikely I will have a drink.

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In many people’s lives, alcohol, tobacco or gambling addictions can mask the real underlying domestic and social issues that we all face ploughing through lives and careers.

Without knowing your age and having read some of the previous responses to this very serious thread, I would assume that you are relatively young middle-age; a time when many of us who now have the benefit of hindsight, would admit we ‘overdid it’ somewhat where alcohol was concerned.

I well remember my fortieth birthday dinner party where incredibly sixty-three bottles of wine were consumed….total madness of course!

As we age, we should take more notice of the messages our bodies are sending us. With me it is weight and I have recently managed to shift three stones and feel very much better for it.

With alcohol, many of us who subscribe to this WS community should know that ‘to drink less but better’ is a good mantra to observe. We owe it to ourselves and our dependants.

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What a wonderfully brave and important topic you’ve started, @Jcbl - and I’m so very glad to hear you’re on the mend. A huge well done to you for putting so much work into your recovery - and for talking about it, which I think is a really key part of combatting the stigmas around mental health, especially in men. Bravo. :clap:

I’ve had anxiety and bouts of depression on and off for years, so my other half and I try to be very strict on not using alcohol to combat stress/bad feelings. Like you, I’d rather not stop drinking altogether, as Mr Laura and I both have a genuine love for good wine, so it would seem like an unnecessary punishment (as @Inbar put it so perfectly ‘the zeal of the convert is always a little suspect’ and we prefer the middle ground!) But we’ve doubled our alcohol-free days from at least 2 per week to at least 4 per week this year and it’s having a huge difference on our wellbeing. Everything from energy levels to sleep quality, plus feeling more hydrated! That’s also allowed us to spend more time cooking nutritious meals from scratch, and starting the Couch to 5K challenge, which has been a huge eye-opener - I mean, running is basically awful, but the joyful energy you get after a run (which lasts for at least a day) is utterly amazing! All that adds up to an improved mood, which - for a long, miserable January - feels like a win.

And - as @AnaGramWords just posted - this also allows us to ‘drink less but better’, and we’ve really enjoyed treating ourselves to nicer wines for the weekend.

I think self-awareness is half the battle. None of us are perfect 24/7, but as long as we’re honest with ourselves and continue to have our best interests at heart day by day (even when we have days where we don’t do so well, whether that’s alcohol, exercise, food, or whatever else…), I consider that the healthiest way to be.

Great topic!

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Thank you for writing this - I’m sure so many of us can recognise parts of our own life in what you wrote.

Talking to people about how you feel is so important and so overlooked by a society intent on wanting to know everything about you (through social media) but never wanting to actually know you.

I quit my job and started on my own nearly 3 years ago - pressures of International travel and being away from family - it was hard for the first little while and i’m sure the black dog was in the distance. With such easy access to alcohol it would have been easy to “open a bottle of medicine” every night but i’ve never been the person to turn to alcohol (and not from having seem ill effects in my own family), Instead I did some of what you (and others) wrote about - I have kept my relationship with alcohol as a friendly one - we enjoy each others company but normally over a meal and normally only at weekends (that weekday drinking thread is one I only ever seem to read and not contribute towards!) it is certainly a case of quality over quantity. The release from the enjoyment certainly helps my mood but it is the release from all aspects - food, wine, friends, chat and not just from wine

Working out your own personal resilience tactics to issues that may causes stress and depression is essential - for me I try to keep fit, enjoy being outside (allotment…nothing like growing your own food!) and ensure I have meaningful (even if they are difficult) conversations with friends and family.

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Thanks for being brave enough to post about such an important topic and to everyone who’s posted in response for their empathy and wise words. I too have used alcohol to paper over the cracks in my life with detrimental effects to my mental, and eventually physical, well being.

When I was working I became severely depressed. I was drinking too much and barely ate. Like you, I also undertook a CBT course and it helped me to recognise my triggers and be more mindful. The techniques don’t work every time but it has helped to reduce my binge drinking. Taking regular exercise was every bit as important, Becoming fitter really helped to reduce those feelings of low self esteem which was so often the trigger that led to me over doing it.

In the greater scheme of things I still drink too much, and do feel guilty as a result, but at least I have a degree of control now and importantly no longer wake up feeling like dirt.

I can’t offer you any wise words only my best wishes. Hopefully you can carry on treading that fine line between enjoyment and escapism. Oh and if it helps, you’re not alone.

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Thanks for raising such an important issue Jcbl and I certainly didn’t find it controversial or uncomfortable, just very honest and interesting. And its also been great to read so many supportive and (also) interesting replies.

On the general point of raising the issue, I was lucky enough to hear Alastair Campbell talk on mental health issues recently (he’s superb on this topic if you ever get the chance) and having been introduced he started by gently rebuking the introductory comments regarding the use of the word ‘brave’ in relation to discussing mental health. Yes of course we know why that word is used (sometimes, sadly, with good reason) but AC made the point that we don’t usually use the language of bravery when someone discusses the challenges of a broken leg or other ailment that lacks a mental element. Its posts like yours Jcbl that help us look beyond notions of bravery regarding mental health and look towards such discussions being commonplace and open. So for that, again, thank you.

I also had two brief points to add regarding my own experience involving the unfortunately not uncommon combination of anxiety and depression. First, regarding anxiety the bigger enemy for me was my high consumption of caffeine rather than alcohol and a 12 month break worked wonders in re-balancing my caffeine tolerance. In contrast I found that alcohol generally only caused me problems on the fortunately relatively rare times that I binged (usually work-related socialising) where I noticed a big anxiety spike the following day.

I now have a drinking routine very similar to the one that you found worked well for you. And - strangely you might think - my change in habits actually led to me joining the Wine Society!! I decided on a policy of quality over quantity in relation to alcohol. I now pay far more attention to what I drink than I ever did in the past and what I do drink I enjoy and appreciate much more. And for that the Wine Society has been perfect. I’m not for a moment saying that this is the route for everyone (and I have a very good friend for whom giving up alcohol altogether has worked really well) but I would absolutely agree that there are many approaches that can work in what you perfectly describe as ‘the complex relationship between alcohol and wellbeing.’

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Thank you to everyone in this thread, especially to @Jcbl for starting it.

I, as with everyone else here, have a difficult relationship with my mental health, and my partner is currently off long term with anxiety/depression. Wine and I have an interesting relationship when I am mentally down. I don’t drink excessively. I binge buy. My gratification release comes from (reckless) spending money. Last January my SAD lamp concked out. I bought 144 bottles of wine and while we couldn’t actively come up with a definition of fine wine, but I’m pretty sure that lot were! I know it sound ridiculous but a lot of them are still un-drunk (yes, I have also just posted that I bought two mixed cases - these are a little more weeknight in their price/style). This’s happened several times in my life. although with different things (and occasionally in combination with excessive drinking… I once bought a 1966 Alfa Romeo on Ebay with no recollection of this the next morning!), but over the past 5 years it’s definitely been wine that’s the most “satisfying” to the brain weasels. It puts me in an awkward position as I also love wine. Unfortunately the usual way to tell if I am well enough to buy wine is my ability to question whether or not I am well enough.

I’m on a far more even keel now (and am somehow debt free?!). A combination of therapy, exercise (and more recently updating my CV - anyone need a Head of Data/Information?) I’m probably as healthy as I’ve ever been. I needed the CBT to get me as far as being able to get to the gym though. Baring that EP Burgundy purchase (which was at least semi-planned as I just bought 6 bottles more than I’d intended) I’ve not bought anything unplanned and excessive since last winter.

I hope everyone here is as healthy as they can be. Please remember you’re not alone!

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Interesting and honest post. Whilst half a bottle of wine a night sounds excessive… perhaps give it 3 ‘dry’ nights a week and suddenly you are back below guidelines.

MUCH better (I find) is an alternative that gives you the endorphin high without the damage. I trained and tought Karate for 3 nights a week since the '80’s up til only a few years ago (ruins your knees) - you cant beat it to make you feel better about life. Folk all ages benefitted in the class, it wasnt for martial art’s psychos.

Personally I cant abide Gyms: the background daytime TV or plugging in your earphones ruins your metal health. Group sessions involving real people is better. But… horses for courses.

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Couldn’t agree more about gyms. When I say gym what I actually mean is dusty railway arch where I go for Olympic Weightlifting classes.

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Thank you very much for sharing this. I have not noticed any deleterious effect of my wine drinking, but I am trying to cut down. Wine gives pleasures of so many kinds, not least of which is aesthetic. It is excellent that you have the stamina and courage to cut down in order to improve your health and relationships. Good luck and congratulations. Best - Richard

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Like to echo the sentiments expressed by everyone on this thread.

Just over ten years ago I was seriously ill with pancreatitis, which was no doubt due to the fact I was nearly twice the weight I should have been. I was working in the wine trade at the time and a mental crisis followed my physical illness. I think the calories of the booze I drank was for me more damaging than the alcohol.

Sadly I had to leave my job and work part time for a while, but in fits and starts I have improved my health both mentally and physically. I must say that my wonderful partner of nearly 15 years has helped me through all these difficulties.

Exercise is also the one thing that has made a difference to me. I’m a fairly regular swimmer and walker now and I try to make sure that my drinking fits into my calorie targets for the day (most of the time!)

I’ve pretty much given up beer and cider and restrict my consumption to wine and the odd dram, with G+T in the summer (a low calorie way to drink!) I do drink more than the UK recommended intake but slightly less than the intake recommended in other countries. I try to make sure that I have at least a couple of dry days a week as well as the odd dry week in the year.

Everyone has to work to find their own life/work/fun/exercise balance and it’s not easy, but its refreshing to see people being open and supportive about the issue!

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Support of a loved one is always beneficial in times of difficulty……. and in the words of Beyoncé…

:wink::wink::wink::wink:

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I’ve never liked gyms. They remind me of school. In fact, I don’t need them. My car mileage is only 30% more than my bike mileage. My holidays are usually spent walking.

I used to drink more when I was single. Especially at weekends. Even though I drank a lot, mostly IPA, I never had an alcohol dependency. For me, beer with friends was a ritual. Maybe after Friday choir practice.

Having moved onto wine, it’s usually with food. It never gives me hangovers. And I never feel I need to finish the bottle. But I can’t do the same with chocolate: I will eat the whole bar or box!

Like others, I have alcohol-free days. Lent begins soon which might give an incentive to drink less. It’s a test of will-power.

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What really stands out to me is the drinking of half a bottle bit… Like you, I often open a bottle and pour half to the brim of a screwcap bottle, and keep in fridge…

It’s very easy to tell yourself that this way, you only drink half a bottle. The absence of actual hangover the next day reinforces the idea that this is fine.

Then you can be influenced by norms. Most obviously, you can read about serious alcoholics consuming vast amounts and see you’re not one of those by any measure…

Another norm: a bottle being for two with dinner, so having half of it is OK, right. Further, if you’re male like me, you can reason that for a mixed-gender couple, the man might well be expected to drink a little more, and so half the bottle is actually modest.

Half a bottle can also feel modest (or mean) in the context of a meal. I actually find it takes effort to string out half a bottle across a whole meal - if you want a sip while cooking, a bit with a starter, most with the main course, and a little with cheese… It’s very easy to finish the half before the cheese and reach for a sherry with it - which after all keeps well in the fridge.

Another point: Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep is an absolutely brilliant book by a scientist who’s studied sleep. I’m not usually into science books, but this one is gripping - it’s superbly written. Anyway, alcohol disrupts sleep, and Walker’s main thrust is that even small disruptions in sleep (for example, seven hours a night when you as a person optimise at eight) have big, big impacts. In that context, it seems very easy to see why even modest amounts of alcohol could disrupt mood - just on the reduction in sleep quality alone (and half a bottle is easily enough to disrupt sleep).

All of which makes me think your post is a very valuable one… it’s resonant, and about the dangers of alcohol consumption that can, on the face of it, not look worrisome, but could have a real impact. And that makes it an all the more commendable contribution…

Have you thought about limiting alcohol consumption to weekend lunchtimes? My thinking is that this way, the alcohol is gone by the time you need to sleep - so yes, you might get less done in the afternoon, but you’re doing your important sleeping?

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I have dined with more than a few people who have, let’s say, a flexible interpretation of what constitutes ‘lunchtime’. Most recently, at a fund raising lunch at local rugby club in early December, which started at 12.30 and was still going strong at 7.30pm…

Seriously, it’s a valid point, as are many you make above. I have noticed it as a sleep disrupter at times, not always.

If my wife and I were to share a bottle equally at dinner, she would definitely be feeling it more than me…as we proved last night :rofl: very rare for her though. Usually I get the big half…

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