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New report: alcohol and mental health are linked

Front page of the report "Alcohol and the Brain"

20.02.2024 - Alcohol is a risk factor for mental health issues. At the same time, reduced alcohol consumption can improve the health of individuals with mental health issues. This is shown in a new compilation on the many consequences of alcohol on the brain conducted by an international research group. The report is backed by organizations such as the Brain Foundation (Hjärnfonden) and IOGT-NTO.

"The report is a new and unique compilation of research on how alcohol affects the human brain throughout life. Overall, it suggests that avoiding alcohol is good for brain health - from a single drinking occasion to intense or regular consumption over time," says Sven Andréasson, senior physician at the Addiction Centre Stockholm and professor emeritus of social medicine at the Karolinska Institute, and one of the authors of the report.

Alcohol increases the risk of mental health issues

Alcohol increases the risk of anxiety, depression, addiction, and suicide. The risk of developing addiction is also greater in psychiatric conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder. Newer studies indicate that mental health issues can both be caused by and lead to alcohol problems. However, it is most common for high alcohol consumption to cause mental health issues such as depression, as outlined in the report. For those living with mental health issues combined with high alcohol consumption, reducing consumption has had a positive effect on health. Alcohol can temporarily alleviate anxiety and worry, but the effect is short-lived, and the anxiety worsens afterwards.

A contributing factor in suicide

There is strong evidence for a causal relationship between alcohol and suicide. About 15% of all suicides globally are estimated to be caused by alcohol. A collective analysis consisting of thirty-three studies reported in the document also showed that the risk of suicide was significantly increased for alcohol consumers compared to non-consumers. Restrictive alcohol policy aimed at the entire population has, in turn, been shown to be a success factor in reducing the number of suicides.

How alcohol affects your brain

The report shows that alcohol affects all brain functions and impairs memory and intellectual ability, for example. Additionally, alcohol increases the risk of several brain diseases and injuries, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, accidents, stroke, and dementia. Reducing or avoiding alcohol intake is an important modifiable factor to promote brain health. Achieving this requires alcohol policy measures to reduce alcohol's contribution to neurological, cognitive, and psychiatric problems on a population level.

"Increasing public understanding of alcohol and brain health is good. But more research is also important to assess the overall impact of alcohol on brain health, especially at low to moderate consumption. Research on treatment for people with addiction and treatment for comorbidity is also significant for improving public health,"

Anna Hemlin, Secretary-General, Brain Foundation

"It becomes increasingly clear how harmful alcohol is to both our physical and mental well-being," says Lucas Nilsson, chairman of IOGT-NTO. "We would never tolerate another substance that causes so many and such varied damages. As a society, we need to ask ourselves, what can we do to reduce alcohol consumption through political means?"

Lucas Nilsson, Chairman, IOGT-NTO

The research group consists of:

Sven Andreasson Karolinska Institute, Department of Public Health Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden,

Frida Dangardt, Department of Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg and Children's Heart Centre, Queen Silvia's Children's Hospital, Gothenburg, Sweden,

Tanya Chikritzhs Curtin University, National Drug Research Institute, Perth, Australia,

Tim Stockwell Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, University of Victoria, BC,

Timothy Naimi Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, University of Victoria, BC, Canada

Harold Holder Senior Scientist Emeritus and former director of the Prevention Research Center, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Berkeley, CA, USA

Organizations behind the report:

CERA, Svensk förening för allmänmedicin, Svensk sjuksköterskeförening, Stiftelsen Ansvar för Framtiden, Actis-Rusfeltets samarbeidsorgan, Alkohol & Samfund, Hela människan, Hjärnfonden, IOGT-NTO, IOGT i Norge, Junis, MA – Rusfri Trafikk, MHF Motorförarnas Helnykterhetsförbund, Movendi International, Sveriges Blåbandsförbund, Sveriges Frikyrkosamråd, Sveriges Landsråd för Alkohol- och Narkotikafrågor, Svensk förening för Beroendemedicin, UNF 2024.


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