Alcohol and mental health are closely related. Because alcohol alters the mood and brain functions, people who drink alcohol do so for more than just environmental reasons. The psychological component of drinking has cultural, social and mental wellness dynamics.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal describes a project analyzing groups in the United States and China. The research looks at how drinking patterns change physical and mental well-being. The research team surveyed people who had never consumed alcohol and people who had routinely consumed alcohol. 

Their findings showed the highest recorded satisfaction and well-being with women who had stopped drinking alcohol. This calculated rate of mental happiness among this group was even higher than women who had never consumed alcohol or were lifetime abstainers.

This study highlights the fact that alcohol consumption around the world is increasing and is a factor for disease. Many countries do not have alcohol regulation. Of those that do, setting a standard for safe consumption is usually part of those regulations.

The medical community often approves of moderate drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidelines for Americans, which includes the measure of consumption that falls within a moderate classification. 

Women and alcohol have been subject to stricter guidelines than regarding a “healthy” amount of alcohol consumption, because of their average size difference. Research also indicates they are affected differently by excessive drinking.

Quitting alcohol usually takes place because of a harmful pattern of excessive drinking or addiction. The study had a few other helpful findings:

  • Lifetime abstainers, male or female, began the four-year study with the highest level of mental health
  • People who drank alcohol regularly had the highest level of physical well-being at the beginning of the study
  • Men did not see the same level of change as women in improvement of well-being after quitting alcohol, whether during or after the study

Many Similarities Despite Cultural Differences

Alcohol and culture is an evolving research area. Culture and mental health also vary significantly, both in the general trends of a society and in the society’s approach to mental health support. Alcohol consumption and mental health vary between China and the United States. There were both similarities in differences in the analysis of the Chinese and American groups which were studied.

According to the World Health Organization, 42% of people in China are lifetime abstainers and 2% are former drinkers. A 2.3% prevalence of alcohol use disorders is recorded for people aged 15 and over. Almost 50% of the population surveyed had consumed alcohol excessively within the past 12 months. China has:

  • Taxes on beer, wine and spirits
  • Regulations on alcohol advertising
  • No age limit for alcohol
  • National monitoring system for alcohol

The World Health Organization reports that in the United States, 9% of people are lifetime abstainers and 19% are former drinkers. Almost 14% of the population meets the requirements for alcohol use disorder and nearly 8% meet the requirements for alcohol dependence. Around 50% of the surveyed population had excessively drunk alcohol within the past 12 months. The United States has:

  • Taxes on beer, wine and spirits
  • No federal regulations on alcohol advertising or product placement
  • An age limit of 21 years 
  • National monitoring system for alcohol

There are many similarities between the systems in China and America. Alcohol use is also impacted by differences in culture. In China, drinking alcohol varies based on social class, gender and religion, with more men than women who drink. Alcohol is a part of some of their social rituals.

In the United States, alcohol is a part of many social rituals and binge drinking is an acceptable part of the culture for both sexes. An interesting element of the published study on how alcohol impacts mental health is that there were similar rates in both Chinese and American participants.

Mental Health Benefits of Quitting Alcohol

Quitting alcohol may be preceded by discussions from family, friends, or gaining understanding of the mental health issues behind excessive drinking. Often, people misuse alcohol because they are depressed or unhappy. Alcohol and mental health were core concepts of this study. The relationship between mental health and alcohol abuse was indicated by multiple findings that were the result of the two tools used to measure mental health.

  1. The Physical Component Summary
  2. The Mental Component Summary

These two tools measured people’s function on physical levels, taking into account bodily pain, state of mind, perceived health and general health. Improvement was made in multiple groups, but the greatest improvement was for women who had been regular alcohol drinkers who quit drinking entirely.

There are many benefits to quitting alcohol entirely. Some of the measurements in this study where participants saw improvement include:

  • Energy
  • Regular feelings of wellness or well-being
  • Decreased stress
  • Increased productivity

Abstinence Instead of Moderate Drinking

Moderate drinking has most commonly been the accepted standard, even from the medical field, rather than abstinence from alcohol. Drinking in moderation is a challenge for many people, as statistics of binge drinking show. This study is one of several that begin to provide long-term evidence that abstinence has better health benefits than moderation.

Alcohol consumption and mental health is an important point of discussion for anyone making decisions about their alcohol use. Alcohol can lead to addiction. Alcohol also has side effects that can be persistent, unpleasant and lead to long-term health issues. Abstinence can be a way to avoid those issues entirely.

If you are struggling with alcohol misuse or you’d like to learn about treatment programs for alcohol addiction, please contact The Recovery Village.