America’s mental health crisis, marked by increasing rates of anxiety and depression, is exacerbated by chronic alcohol consumption, which is deeply ingrained in our culture. Alcohol abuse can heighten the risk of developing these mental health disorders, creating a vicious cycle of self-medication and addiction. On the other hand, recent research highlights the therapeutic potential of magic mushrooms, particularly their active compound psilocybin, in treating mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Psilocybin has demonstrated an ability to disrupt maladaptive thought patterns and promote lasting positive change. By challenging the normalization of chronic alcohol consumption and exploring more effective, evidence-based alternatives like magic mushrooms, we can work towards transforming our understanding of mental health treatment and addressing the growing mental health crisis.
America’s mental health crisis has reached alarming proportions, with anxiety and depression rates reaching unprecedented levels1. Chronic alcohol consumption, often seen as a remedy for anxiety or stress, has become increasingly prevalent in our society, with daily drinking becoming an accepted norm. Meanwhile, the potential benefits of entheogens, like magic mushrooms, remain largely untapped. This article will explore the dangers of chronic alcohol consumption and discuss how magic mushrooms can offer a healthier and more effective alternative for mental well-being.
The Dark Side of Alcohol
Many among the psychedelic community regard alcohol as the devil. Alcohol consumption has been sinisterly ingrained in American culture and media. While moderate social drinking is often seen as harmless, or even beneficial, chronic social alcohol use can have severe consequences for mental health. Studies have shown that alcohol abuse can lead to a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression2. Moreover, alcohol dependence can exacerbate existing mental health issues and create a vicious cycle of self-medication and addiction.
According to a recent podcast on What Alcohol Does To Your Body, Brain & Health by the Huberman Lab:
- Chronic alcohol intake, even at low to moderate levels (1-2 drinks per day or 7-14 per week), can disrupt the brain
- When people drink, the prefrontal cortex and top-down inhibition are diminished and impulsive behavior increases – this is true in the short term while drinking, and rewires circuitry outside of drinking events in chronic drinkers (even those who drink 1-2 nights per week, long term)
- Damaging effects to the prefrontal cortex and rewiring of neural circuitry are reversible with 2-6 months of abstinence for most social/casual drinkers; chronic users will partially recover but likely feel long-lasting effects
- When people drink there is a shutdown of the prefrontal cortex and circuits that control memory, then there’s a fork in the road: group 1 – people who feel sedated after a few drinks; group 2 – people who do not feel sedated after a few drinks (predisposition to alcoholism)
- People who start drinking at a younger age (13-15) are more likely to develop dependence, regardless of the history of alcoholism in their family; people who delay drinking to early 20s are less likely to develop dependence even if there’s a family history
- People who drink consistently (even in small amounts i.e., 1 per night) experience increases in cortisol release from adrenal glands when not drinking so feel more stress and more anxiety when not drinking
- With increased alcohol tolerance, you get less and less of the feel good blip and more and more of the pain signaling (so behaviorally you drink more to try to activate those dopamine and serotonin molecules again)
- The risk of breast cancer increases among women who drink – for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day, there’s a 4-13% increase in the risk of cancer (alcohol increases tumor growth & suppresses molecules that inhibit tumor growth)
- Regular consumption of alcohol increases estrogen levels of males and females through aromatization
While most people imagine alcoholism as sitting alone in a room, drinking all day, the cycle of regular social alcohol consumption and dealing with its short-term and long-term consequences can negatively impact mental health in several ways:
- Immediate effects of alcohol: While alcohol may temporarily boost mood and increase sociability, its effects as a central nervous system depressant can also lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, or irritability as it wears off. This can contribute to a cycle of using alcohol to cope with negative emotions, potentially exacerbating mental health issues over time.
- Hangovers and physical consequences: Even occasional bouts of social drinking can result in hangovers, with symptoms like headache, nausea, fatigue, and dehydration. These physical symptoms can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety, which can have a negative impact on mental health.
- Impact on relationships: Social alcohol consumption may sometimes lead to interpersonal conflicts, poor decision-making, or damaged relationships. These negative experiences can contribute to feelings of loneliness, depression, and stress, which can negatively impact mental health.
- Sleep disruption: Alcohol consumption can interfere with the quality and duration of sleep, which is essential for overall mental health. Even occasional social drinking can result in sleep disturbances, leading to increased fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, which can contribute to mental health challenges.
- Coping mechanisms: Regular social alcohol consumption may become a default coping mechanism for dealing with stress or negative emotions. This reliance on alcohol can make it more difficult to develop healthy, adaptive coping strategies, potentially exacerbating mental health issues in the long run.
- Potential long-term consequences: While occasional social drinking may not lead to severe physical health consequences, a pattern of regular alcohol consumption can still increase the risk of developing alcohol-related health issues over time. This can lead to increased stress and anxiety, further affecting mental well-being.
- Caloric content: Alcoholic beverages contain calories, primarily in the form of alcohol and, in some cases, added sugars or mixers. Regularly consuming these additional calories without adjusting other aspects of your diet or increasing physical activity can lead to weight gain over time.
The Potential of Magic Mushrooms
Recent research has uncovered the remarkable potential of magic mushrooms, specifically their active compound, psilocybin, in treating mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety3. Unlike alcohol, psilocybin has demonstrated an ability to disrupt maladaptive thought patterns and promote lasting positive change⁴.
Clinical trials have shown that a single dose of psilocybin, administered in a controlled therapeutic setting, can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses⁵. Furthermore, these benefits can persist for months after the initial treatment⁶.
Replacing Alcohol with Magic Mushrooms
While magic mushrooms are not a one-size-fits-all solution, they offer a promising alternative to the destructive cycle of alcohol dependence and self-medication. By disrupting harmful patterns of thought and behavior, psilocybin can help individuals break free from the grip of alcohol and embrace a healthier, more balanced approach to managing anxiety and stress.
As America grapples with a mounting mental health crisis, it’s crucial to challenge the normalization of chronic alcohol consumption and explore more effective, evidence-based alternatives. Magic mushrooms, backed by a growing body of research, hold the potential to transform our understanding of mental health treatment and offer a promising path forward.
- Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T. E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S. G. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes in a nationally representative dataset, 2005–2017. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(3), 185-199. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000410.
- Boschloo, L., Vogelzangs, N., Smit, J. H., van den Brink, W., Veltman, D. J., Beekman, A. T., & Penninx, B. W. (2011). Comorbidity and risk indicators for alcohol use disorders among persons with anxiety and/or depressive disorders: Findings from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA). Journal of Affective Disorders, 131(1-3), 233-242. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2010.12.014.
- Carhart-Harris, R. L., & Goodwin, G. M. (2017). The therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs: past, present, and future. Neuropsychopharmacology, 42(11), 2105-2113. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.