Skip to Content

Understanding Alcohol Misuse and Your Mental Health this Alcohol Awareness Month

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time dedicated to educating people on the impact alcohol has on our lives. Alcohol misuse is often accompanied by mental health conditions. We must understand all these conditions to better support those suffering from them.

Alcohol, while not the only substance that can be misused, is the most abused substance in the U.S. It is generally accepted for daily use and because of this, alcohol dependence can be overlooked. Some ways in which alcohol use is normalized include:

  • Alcohol is generally served at many social functions and celebrations like weddings, birthdays, work social outings, and holidays.
  • It’s widely available for sale at grocery stores and restaurants.
  • The idea of “unwinding” after a long day of work and at the end of the work week also gives a sense of normalcy to having a drink alone at night.

While occasional drinking can be acceptable, people can develop Alcohol Use Disorder, the technical term for alcoholism, when they are, “unable to stop or control their alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”

Unfortunately, alcohol and substance misuse can often go hand-in-hand with other mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. People with alcohol and substance use disorders often have other co-occurring mental illnesses, also called dual diagnoses, because they use substances like alcohol or drugs to cope with negative thoughts and feelings.  

La Viola, a member of the Stop Stigma Sacramento Speaker’s Bureau, says that she used to use substances as a quick escape from her mental health symptoms when they were at their worst because she didn’t realize that she was experiencing PTSD, anxiety and depression. “I was overwhelmed by feelings of dread and thoughts of death and suicide. My immediate impulse was to soothe my ailing mind with a drink, or whatever else would dull the edges of my pain and reality at that time… that nearly took my life. It was at that point that I realized I had to do something more proactive instead of reactive in terms of my mental health. That’s when I started getting comprehensive support. I got on meds, I attended therapy regularly, I changed my lifestyle overall.”

Alcohol and substance use disorders are serious mental and physical health conditions that affect people of all races, religions, ethnicities, and economic groups.  Below are some warning signs that someone may be suffering from these conditions:

  • Intense cravings
  • Neglecting familial, work, and school-related responsibilities
  • Withdrawing from important, or desirable social and recreational activities
  • Acting out of character which includes lying, impulsivity, or irritability
  • Continuing to use despite psychological, physical, or social consequences

Alcohol and drug abuse are some of the most stigmatized conditions across the world – and unfortunately the same is true in many communities here in Sacramento. Stigma is a major obstacle to asking for help and seeking treatment.  As a result, when someone is struggling with alcohol and substance use, they may not feel comfortable speaking about it, so they remain silent.

“Oftentimes we drown our symptoms with substances because we don’t have any other way to cope,” La Viola shared. “But once you find something to live for and find coping mechanisms that are healthy and bring you joy, it gets much easier. If my journey is anything, it is a journey of hope rather than perfection… It is easier to run to a liquor store than to face difficult life challenges – that may be something that I deal with for the duration of my life – however, I will never stop trying.”

Recovery from alcohol and substance use disorders is very possible. By being aware of the warning signs, we can support those in getting the help they need. Many treatment options are available to residents in Sacramento County and its local cities that specialize in dual-diagnosis treatment. Being open to conversations on alcoholism and mental illness not only creates a more welcoming environment but also reduces the stigma surrounding these conditions.

Please know that help is always available and that you are never alone. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 74174. Additionally, if you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or substance use, the local resources below can help.

County resources for substance and alcohol abuse:

Another Choice, Another Chance
Cal Voices | Peer Support
Detox Rehabs
Hope Cooperative
River Oak Center For Children
Sacramento Native American Health Center
Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Services
Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)
Wellspace Health

Learn more about mental illness as well as alcohol and substance use disorder and the support that is available at