Interview with Dr. Jolien Dopmeijer Part I
Jolien Dopmeijer is currently project leader for students at the Trimbos Institute and obtained his doctorate a year ago at the UvA in student welfare, which also includes alcohol and other substances. Through her background in nursing, she also has experience with addiction care. IkPas talks to her about the relationship between alcohol and mental health: "We are all familiar with the hangover, but there is still insufficient attention for the consequences of alcohol use on mental health."
What are the effects of alcohol consumption on mental health?
“We are all familiar with being less sharp because of a hangover, because alcohol can cause concentration problems. Also in the long term alcohol use can cause concentration problems due to brain damage. That is also why the drinking age has been raised to 18. In addition, alcohol exacerbates existing psychological problems. To make that even more concrete: 51% of the students experienced anxiety and depression symptoms and 68% experienced emotional exhaustion. That is a very large group of students whose mental health deteriorates when they drink.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to teach students to think about the long-term consequences of drinking because students develop the part of their brain that sees alcohol as a reward earlier than the part that can estimate the long-term consequences of alcohol consumption. The association with alcohol as a reward is thus already much more developed than the association with alcohol as a risk at the age of the average student. Not to mention the opinion that alcohol is 'just part of student life'.
So there is still a lot to be gained in awareness about alcohol use on mental health. Why do you think that is?
“We know that many students drink excessively. They both drink more alcohol than other groups per occasion (binge drinking), and they have more occasions in which they drink. We also see this in the Monitor Mental Health and Substance Use for Higher Education Students. With this drinking behaviour, students therefore fall into the risk category of alcohol users.
It's often said that this is just part of student culture, but I think that's downplayed too much. That's because most people show "natural recovery." This means that alcohol consumption already decreases as students get older and they start drinking an average amount at some point. However, there is also a group where this does not happen. This is often because of existing psychological problems and the 'narcotic' function that alcohol has in that 'psychological' pain.
In addition, there is another factor that we must take into account. Students do not always seem to be able to assess for themselves whether mental health problems are at play. Often problem drinkers are not aware that they have a problem. We think this is because students are not taught to recognize things in themselves. How to live a healthy life and how to manage your mental health is not discussed, while you do learn so many other things in education.”
What can help with this problem?
“IkPas campaigns can make a significant contribution to making you more aware of the problem. They may not contribute to raising awareness about psychological reasons for drinking, but they can let you experience the health benefits of not drinking for a longer period of time and what regular drinking of alcohol does to you. You are clearer, you can think better, you feel better about yourself, you have more energy. It's a good eye-opener not to drink for a while if you normally do that often or a lot.”