Health Agenda

Mental Health

Alcohol and depression in men

Having a few beers with mates is still something many Aussie blokes do to unwind. But the growing link between men, alcohol and mental health is revealing some shocking effects. Here’s how drinking is affecting men.

Having a beer at the pub with mates seems like a rite of passage in Australia – even a tradition.

And, while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a cold one at the end of the day, one of the greatest concerns surrounding Aussie blokes and boozing, are the knock-on effects of mental health problems.

Evidence shows alcohol can cause depression in men, and statistics support this, with alcohol being a contributing factor in male suicide.

While a healthy and balanced relationship with alcohol is best, how do men achieve that, and how can we help when things get out of hand?

How alcohol and depression in men are linked

While you might associate beers at the pub with having a laugh with mates, alcohol is actually classified as a depressant. Alcohol slows down how the brain reacts, while having both a stimulant and sedative effect in the body, explaining why it can make you feel either upbeat or more relaxed.

Alcohol’s apparent power to boost your mood or let you escape your worries – albeit only temporarily – may also explain why some men use alcohol as a coping mechanism for depression or anxiety.

While drinking may reduce stress in the moment, ongoing use of alcohol to improve mood can lead to physical and mental health challenges.

Are men drinking more?

During COVID-19, economic uncertainty and psychological distress – linked to isolation and health fears – has seen an increase in how much we drink.

A study by the Australian National University showed men whose hours of work had been cut back were drinking more than in the previous three years.

Men are also more likely to drink excessively than women, with a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing 50% of men are more likely to ‘drink to get drunk’, compared to 39% of women. Men are also more likely to binge drink than women, and will consume around eight drinks per binge.

One of the reasons for this may be because men have more water and less fat in their bodies than women, so need to drink more to feel the same effects. Men’s bodies also tend to have a higher amount of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol faster.

Aside from the physical, there could be psychological reasons men are drinking more.

While women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, men are four times more likely to commit suicide. This suggests that men are less likely to seek help and support when feeling anxious, stressed and depressed. A tendency to use alcohol to cope can make these symptoms worse over time.

These studies show us there is a very real link between male depression and alcohol. But, what can we do to help?

Helping men break the alcohol-depression cycle

Dr Neil Hall, director of the Men’s Health Information & Resource Centre at Western Sydney University, says that men are experiencing heightened stress because of isolation and unemployment, and we need to work together to encourage good mental health and wellbeing.

“We’re asking people to check in with the men in their lives,” he says. “Pick up the phone, send a text or get together online to start an important conversation, and to share vital support and health information.”

If you’re concerned about your own drinking or mental health, or that of a loved one, there are support services you can reach out to.

Change your relationship with alcohol

Reset drinking habits with the Daybreak app*, Hello Sunday Morning’s online behaviour change program giving you access to 24/7 digital support. The program connects you anonymously with a like-minded online community trying to change their relationship with alcohol.

The Daybreak app is fully subsidised by the Australian Department of Health, which means all Australians get free access.

HCF members may also have access to additional mental health support. For more information contact HCF’s Health and Wellbeing Team at wellbeing@hcf.com.au

Download the Daybreak app on the App Store or Google Play.

Where to find more help for alcohol support, counselling and information:  

If you're struggling with depression or anxiety, and need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Based on article first published by Hello Sunday Morning
Updated May 2021

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