By Graham Wilson, blogger at Undrunk

14-20 May 2018 is Mental Health Awareness Week. Read Graham's story about alcohol and his mental health.

This blog contains descriptions of suicide attempts.

I never enjoyed the taste of alcohol but I absolutely loved the effect it gave me, that's why my drinking days were doomed from the beginning. I was a pub drinker and would go for a few pints every night after work, which progressed over a short period of time into needing drink. Booze became everything to me - it was my world. If I wasn't drinking it, I was thinking about drinking it. I could do nothing without there being a drink involved, I was obsessed with the stuff.

"I was the last person to know that I had a problem."

I was the last person to know that I had a problem. I thought I was okay and only enjoying a few beers. My alcohol dependency had crept up on me. I remember one day sitting in the house trying to convince myself I would not drink that day. I had deliberately left myself no access to money as I was determined not to drink. I ended up in a pawn shop pawning my wife's and my belongings. 

I hated myself and what I had become, and made several attempts to take my own life. On one occasion, I had taken a lot of pills and the doctors said that if my wife had left me for ten more minutes I would have died. I don't think I wanted to die - I just wanted to wake up fixed. 

By the end of my boozing I was drinking every day and sometimes all day. I would be in the pub at 8am and that would be me all day and night. One day I had no access to drink and thought that weed killer would give me the effect that booze did. I drank half a pint of it. That's the extent I would go to for a 'dunt', but obviously it just led to another trip to hospital. I ended up in the hospital for two weeks being fed through a tube because I had burnt my throat from being sick.

I tried to stop drinking many times, but the longest I usually lasted was a day (unless I was in hospital). I also tried to control my drinking, but I was so out of control that it was futile.

Drink had become my solution to my mental health issues and I was scared of what would happen if I didn't drink. What would I do at Christmas? What about my birthday? What about on holiday? Nobody will like me. How can you possibly celebrate without a drink?

"If I didn't stop, I was going to lose everything."

When I stopped the last time, it was because I wholeheartedly wanted to. I was broken. I knew if I didn't stop I was going to lose everything, and I mean everything. That was on 4 October 2013. At the beginning it was very difficult; the mental health issues I had were still there. They still are today, but my life has transformed beyond belief.

I still struggle with liking myself and giving myself any praise, but that is changing and I am prouder of myself today than I have ever been.

"I am prouder of myself than I have ever been."

I enjoy going out more than I ever have. At the beginning, I was so fearful about relapsing and drinking that I would hate every minute of being out. When I was drinking I generally needed a drink because I was scared of not being very sociable. I was always worried more about what other people thought of me than I did about myself. That has now changed completely. 

I am so happy with my life today. Since I quit drinking my career has taken off and I have moved into a new house. Most importantly I have regained the trust of my family and am loved dearly.

Read more of Graham's story

Alcohol and mental health

Alcohol and mental health are closely linked. Many of us drink alcohol because of the effect it has on our mood, helping us to feel relaxed or unwind - but these feelings aren't long-lasting, and can lead to unintended side effects like sleep disruption and reduced inhibitions leading us to do things we wouldn't when sober.

Drinking heavily or over a long period of time can have a negative effect on mental health as alcohol is a depressant, and so increases a person's risk of anxiety and depression. On the flip side, those of us already experiencing mental health problems often turn to alcohol as a way to cope - but this can worsen symptoms, and comes with the other risks of heavy drinking.

All this doesn't mean we mustn't drink at all - but it does mean that we need to be aware of our drinking and its effect on our mental as well as physical health.

People experiencing problems with their mental health and alcohol use at the same time need special support, and too often this isn't readily available.

But there is help out there; if you or someone you know is experiencing difficulties, speak to your GP, or find out about local alcohol services using our local services directory. Not sure if you're drinking too heavily? Try using our alcohol AUDIT.

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