BreatheUni: Men’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Alfie P., BSc Psychology Student and Volunteer


Are you or do you know someone struggling with mental health?

Is substance abuse the way it is being coped with?

Because if so, then you’re not alone; roughly 50 per cent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse. In fact, I was once one of these very individuals and I know how easy it can be to fall in this trap. I also understand the difficulty in dealing with substance abuse, especially when you are struggling with your mental health. When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, this meant that I was very low all the time and I suffered from recurring panic attacks and I went down the path of abusing alcohol to treat my symptoms.

Alcohol and drugs are commonly implemented to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health problems, however, self-medicating with alcohol and drugs causes side effects and possible addiction. This will often start to worsen the symptoms that it was being utilized to relieve. Having problems with mental illness, such as depression and using alcohol and drugs to treat such illness is considered a dual diagnosis.

Abusing alcohol and drugs can heavily increase symptoms of mental illness, can possibly trigger new symptoms. Alcohol and drug abuse can even have a negative interaction with prescribed medications such as antidepressants, anxiety medications, and mood stabilizers, of which will only make such medications less effective and therefore delaying recovery.

How to recognise a dual diagnosis:

  • Do you use alcohol or drugs to cope with unpleasant memories or feelings, to control pain or the intensity of your moods, to face situations that frighten you, or to stay focused on tasks?
  • Have you noticed a relationship between your substance use and your mental health? For example, do you get depressed when you drink? Or drink when you’re feeling anxious or plagued by unpleasant memories?
  • Has someone in your family grappled with either a mental disorder or alcohol or drug abuse?
  • Do you feel depressed, anxious, or otherwise out of balance even when you’re sober?

I myself asked these questions and that really helped me to understand what I was doing, how I was using alcohol to treat my symptoms. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism disallowed me from recovering from my mental illness, and as soon as I recovered from abusing alcohol, it made dealing with my anxiety and depression more doable.
If you feel that you know someone in this situation or you yourself are in this situation, then know that you are not alone and that we are here at Breathe Uni to provide support.

Feel like learning a bit more about other people’s experiences and get a chance to share your own? Come join us at 7pm on Thursday 25th of March at our BreatheUni café. And follow us on Instagram @breathe_uni!