Given up alcohol for 2013 or doing Dryathalon? Cutting down will help your mental health

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From This Is Gloucestershire

SLASHING alcohol intake as a new year resolution could have long-term benefits on mental health, say experts.

The 2gether NHS Trust, specialising in tackling mental health issues, is supporting drinkers embracing new lifestyle changes for 2013.

It has warned excessive alcohol not only puts physical health at risk, but also mental well-being.

The Countywide Specialist Substance Misuse Service (CSSMS) treated 400 people last year with detox and relapse prevention programmes.

Alcohol is used by some to alleviate stress, anxiety or depression. Drinkers with existing mental health issues can make their symptoms worse, the Trust warned.

Ollie Bennett, community team manager with the substance misuse service, said: “People who are drinking alcohol dependently do not drink primarily for the enjoyment of it.

“It is often used to mask other psychological issues but all too often it becomes the primary problem.”

Alcohol can have a powerful effect on mood and behaviour change, depending on how much is consumed and how quickly, by depressing the central nervous system.

Dr Karen Williams, associate medical director and consultant addiction psychiatrist with the Trust, said people could easily become confused about safe drinking levels.

“If people stick to the recommended guidelines for alcohol, then drinking is not a problem, providing you have an otherwise healthy liver,” she said. “Long term impacts include heart disease and psychological illnesses like depression and anxiety.

“Even relatively moderate drinking can exacerbate existing mental health conditions.

“It’s sometimes hard to keep track of how much you are drinking.”

The Department of Health recommended safe drinking levels for men is three to four units per day and two to three units a day for women.

Most people who experience problems are not addicted, but have drunk more than the recommended guidelines over a number of years.

A pint of four per cent strength beer, lager or cider is two units, whereas 5.3 per cent strength is considered as three. Premium strength lager or cider at nine per cent is considered as one of the more damaging choices for drinkers, with one 440ml can weighing in at a whopping nine units, the same as a bottle of 12 per cent wine.