Giving Up Drink And Drugs In Your Twenties Can Improve Mental Health

For so many young men, booze and drugs are a way out of fully confronting mental ill health or other underlying issues. We spoke to a couple who decided to put down the pints, to see what effect it's had.

Drug and alcohol misuse is particularly prevalent in men. In 2014, men accounted for approximately 65 percent of all alcohol-related deaths in the UK, and in 2014-2015, 74 percent of hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of drug-related mental and behavioural disorders were men. Depression and anxiety are common in individuals with a history of substance abuse, and the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that one in three adults who abuses drugs or alcohol is also affected by depression.

Male mental health might be more talked about than ever in the media, but last month the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness released a study from their campaign Time to Change showing that 54 percent of male teenagers suffering from mental health issues chose to keep their problems to themselves. Despite more and more celebrities outing themselves as sufferers of depression and anxiety, and media-run campaigns encouraging men to talk about what's troubling them, many are still keeping things to themselves.

Bob Foster, 33, has now been sober for 17 months. Until he took the plunge his typical week "would start off with me feeling very depressed and scared to get out of bed on Monday. I'd have a terrible day dodging emails and being monosyllabic in meetings, then I'd go to the gym in the evening and start feeling just about alright thanks to all those lovely endorphins going to the gym gives you. I'd feel marginally better on Tuesday, hit the gym again, feel almost OK on Wednesday, hit the gym again that evening and then spend all of Thursday waiting until the end of the day to get to the pub. Then I'd stay out until maybe 1AM or 2AM, drink and do a load of coke, feel like death at work on Friday and then start drinking immediately after work to stave off the misery, do more coke, stay out 'til 7AM, sleep all day, then possibly do it again Saturday, but if not just shut myself in my room all of Saturday night and Sunday."

In a routine where drinking and taking drugs marked the separation between the mundane week and the release of the weekend, Bob's mental health began to suffer. "I spent my twenties upping the doses of various antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, wondering why they never worked," he says. "It never occurred to me that drinking a depressant and snorting stuff that made you paranoid might make me depressed and paranoid."

Words by Bryony Stone

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