It’s Friday night, your mental health isn’t in the best shape and you decide to have some fun with your friends to hopefully improve your mood. Different intoxicants bring their own benefits but carry along significantly more drawbacks. Here’s what that means for your mental health.
It is no surprise that college students consume a lot of alcohol. While alcohol may seem like fun in the moment, it can further intensify the mental health struggles that many students face. Alcohol falls into the class of intoxicants known as depressants, which means it not only disrupts our thoughts, feelings and actions but usually also our long-term mental health. That relaxed feeling we can experience is due to the chemical changes alcohol causes in the brain. At first, a drink can make people feel more confident or less anxious, but as alcohol consumption continues, its impact on our brain function does as well. Regardless of the mood we’re in, with more alcohol consumption, it’s likely that negative emotions will take over and cause a negative impact on mental health.
Anxiety can be one of the most apparent feelings after a night out. For someone who already experiences anxiety, a drink might help them feel more at ease. However, this feeling is fleeting and the effects wear off fast. Eventually, this can lead to a greater reliance on alcohol to relax and can create alcohol dependence. Hangovers can also create feelings of anxiety, and for those who already deal with anxiety disorders, hangovers can only make their symptoms worse.
Depression is a common side effect of excessive alcohol consumption, and extreme levels of consumption can even cause psychosis. Psychosis is a severe mental illness where hallucinations and delusions occur. Psychoses can be caused both by acute intoxication and withdrawal and are often more common when drinkers dependent on alcohol suddenly stop drinking. So next time you’re out with your friends at a bar, think before ordering that third vodka soda, and your brain might thank you.
On the other hand, some students may engage in activities involving the drug marijuana. While it is incredibly difficult to actually overdose on marijuana compared to alcohol or other drugs, there are still lasting effects that arise from frequent use and high doses.
People who use marijuana are more likely to develop temporary psychosis. This brings along questions like “what is real?” along with hallucinations and general paranoia. In extreme cases, those who are predisposed and continually use marijuana can actually accelerate the onset of long-lasting disorders including schizophrenia.
Marijuana has a wide variety of chemicals called cannabinoids that all create different effects for users. Some examples include the widely known and used cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The latter is what makes you feel “high,” and higher levels of THC are often attributed to stronger psychoactive effects of marijuana. Marijuana can bring a variety of effects to the user such as happiness, relaxation and overall being more talkative. However, it can also cause changes in mood, amnesia, depersonalization and short-term memory loss.
Marijuana is being increasingly used in place of opioids in legal states, and recreational use of the drug is growing exponentially in the United States. For some, marijuana may be a miracle drug that actually helps them in their day-to-day life, and for others, it may be abused to the point of worsening their current mental health issues.
In Oxford, Mississippi many students have begun to turn to opioids due to their ease of access. Many people receive a prescription for opioids after a wisdom tooth removal surgery or similar procedure and end up becoming hooked on the drugs. According to Healthline.com, in 2019, doctors in the United States wrote more than 153 million prescriptions for these medications. There is no doubt that opioids are effective pain relievers, but those who take them are also prone to misuse and could even develop a physical and psychological dependence on them. People with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety are among those more likely to receive opioid prescriptions, yet they’re also at a greater risk for developing an opioid use disorder.
From numerous studies in 2016, it was determined that between 8.4% and 11.6% of people who used opioids for 1-30 days developed depression within 12 months following their use. However, those who used opioids for longer have an increased risk of developing a form of depression. While opioids are effective at relieving pain, they can lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Dependence means you need opioids to function properly, while addiction is when you continue to abuse opioids despite the harmful effects. Opioids are believed to alter your brain chemistry in a way that overall will make you need more and more to experience the same effect, and over time these larger doses can lead to dependence and even death. Mixing alcohol and opioids can cause dangerously slow breathing, coma, and even death. Combined, the two depressants work to intensify the negative effects and put your brain and entire nervous system at a greater risk of harmful side effects.
People who experience depression and other mental health symptoms are more likely to attempt to “self-medicate” with opioids to alleviate their symptoms. Alternatively, people with mental health conditions are among those with genetic dispositions that increase their risk of addiction. Trauma can also contribute to mental health conditions and addiction. Stay away from the pills, prescription or not, as they are incredibly easy to become addicted to and can cause life-threatening complications.