Alcohol and Depression
Feeling sad is a normal part of being human. Sometimes we have feelings of sadness due to a particular event or experience, and other times we can’t pinpoint where the emotion is coming from. However, if these feelings begin to dictate our lives, and they are present most of the time, it could indicate the presence of a mental health condition.
Unfortunately, undiagnosed depression is common and without effective treatment or therapy, many people will find they need to manage their symptoms alone. Some people may try to self-medicate through drinking to relieve the symptoms of depression.
In the long run, alcohol use is likely to result in decreased emotional well-being and increased symptoms of mental illness. If you or someone you know is suffering because of alcohol and depression, professional help is available.
What is Depression?
If feeling low, numb, or empty begins to be a daily occurrence, it could indicate you are living with depression. If it feels as though your low mood interferes with your day-to-day existence and you no longer find joy in things you previously enjoyed it might be time to seek professional advice.
It is still not clear why people develop depression but research suggests it could be due to a combination of factors such as brain chemistry imbalances, genetics, trauma, difficult life events, physical ill health, unemployment or poverty, co-existing mental health issues, and substance misuse.
Within the wider category of depression, there are a number of disorders. These include; major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, perinatal depression, seasonal affective disorder, and depression with symptoms of psychosis.
Indicators of Depression
Research by the National Institute of Mental Health suggests 21.0 million adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2020. Symptoms vary depending on what type of depression is experienced, but there are some commonalities that run through the conditions. These include the following:
- Loss of joy in things you previously found pleasurable
- Increased or decreased appetite, resulting in weight change
- Sleeping difficulties, including under and oversleeping
- Lethargy and exhaustion
- Consumed with thoughts of death or suicide
- Trouble concentrating
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, a medical professional will be able to advise you on the best next steps. Doctors use criteria defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to appropriately diagnose people who are living with symptoms of mental illnesses.
What is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol is largely culturally accepted in the United States and it’s common for it to be present at celebrations such as weddings, birthdays, and graduations. Many people can consume alcohol moderately and leave it at that, while others may use alcohol in a damaging way. This is the difference between drinking and abusing alcohol.
People who misuse alcohol may drink to numb difficult feelings such as sadness, stress, or disappointment. Others may use it to manage symptoms of an underlying mental health condition such as major depressive disorder or PTSD.
If you, or someone you know, is drinking to get through the day, seek professional advice.
Recognizing Alcohol Dependency
Not everybody who has an alcohol dependency will drink alcohol in the same way. Some people may have periods of time where they drink a lot, followed by a number of days of abstinence. Other people may binge drink in the evenings but manage to hold down a job. Some may drink throughout the day. The quantity consumed does not necessarily dictate whether or not someone has a problem, although it can be a good indicator. A need for and preoccupation with alcohol is more significant in defining whether someone has a problem with drink.
It can be helpful to read through the following indicators if you believe you or someone in your life is struggling with a drinking problem.
- Drinking in secret or being dishonest about the amount consumed
- Drinking is interfering with work or school
- Drinking is causing relationship problems
- No longer engaging in activities that were once enjoyed
- Taking part in dangerous behaviors such as driving drunk or unsafe sex
- Experiencing alcohol cravings or withdrawal symptoms
Alcohol Misuse: Brain and Body Impacts
In the short term, drinking can make us feel relaxed and happy. However, these feelings of joy and confidence dissipate fairly quickly. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and impacts how our brain and nervous system function.
Alcohol dependence impacts our brain and body, and unfortunately abusing it can have fatal consequences.
Physical health Consequences
Drinking alcohol can cause people to feel unwell very rapidly. Some people will feel nauseous, experience headaches or vomiting, and may feel sensitive to light and sound. This can happen anywhere between one and ten hours after consumption, and it can affect people who do not have a drinking problem.
The long-term impacts of alcohol abuse are more significant and include the following:
- Lowered immune system
- Increased risk of cancer
- Brain damage
- Increased blood pressure
- Liver and heart disease
- Digestive issues
- High cholesterol
mental health consequences
Alcohol is a depressant which means it slows down our brain processes, resulting in slowed physical and emotional responses. It can impact how we feel, causing us to experience mood swings, depression and anxiety.
Other mental health impacts of alcohol abuse include the following:
- Problems concentrating
- Memory loss
- Brain development issues
- Loss of coordination
behavioral Health Consequences
In addition to physical and mental health impacts, drinking can alter people’s behavior. It can impact a person’s ability to judge situations and people well, therefore leading them to take more risky decisions when under the influence.
Heavy use is also associated with increased aggression and violence, which can lead to domestic abuse, physical assault, and suicide.
The Association Between Alcohol Dependence and Depression
Mental disorders and substance abuse are strongly related. For people living with depression, drinking is, unfortunately, likely to have more significant and negative impacts.
Research shows that people with an alcohol use disorder are 3.7 times more likely to have a co-existing major depressive disorder. However, understanding whether causation or correlation exists is complicated. Does depression lead to alcohol addiction, or are people who misuse alcohol more likely to develop depression? Or furthermore, are people who have either condition predisposed to developing the other?
In fact, any of the above could be true. Drinking too much can lead people to feel depressed due to the interactions with brain chemicals. Alternatively, some people may drink to ease symptoms of mental distress such as depression or anxiety.
Alcohol has a significant impact on our brain function and structure, which increases the association between depression and alcohol.
What is the Relationship Between Alcohol and Depression?
Unfortunately, it’s common for people to turn to substances to manage symptoms of depression, especially if their condition is otherwise untreated. The eased symptoms are only temporary and it’s likely that alcohol consumed will exacerbate the underlying mental condition. Furthermore, withdrawal from alcohol can result in severe depression symptoms, making it hard to regulate mood, which can increase the distress of the individual.
Co-existing depression and alcohol use disorders can cause significant difficulties in all areas of life; relationships, work, and school are likely to be impacted. Furthermore, someone who develops major depression in early life is at higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
Drinking and depression contribute to one another, in that both make the other condition worse. This means it can be extremely difficult for somebody trying to overcome their co-occurring disorders.
There are a number of factors that put individuals at a higher risk of simultaneously developing depression and alcohol use disorders. These include genetics and experiencing trauma such as child abuse, neglect, violence, or war.
Escalating Conditions and the Depression-Alcohol Link
Continued excessive drinking habits can alter brain chemistry which has severe impacts on a person’s mood. Serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for regulating emotion and controlling the brain’s reward system, fluctuate significantly with alcohol consumption. An imbalance in these chemicals can cause symptoms of depression.
After heavy alcohol consumption, individuals may experience the following depressive symptoms:
- Loss of appetite and digestive issues
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Extreme guilt and shame
- Difficulty sleeping
- Aches and pains
- Self-harm or suicidal ideation
Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse and Depression
If you have been living with alcohol-related harm, alcohol use disorder, and depression for a long period of time, it may feel difficult to imagine a time when you will feel good again. The good news is, recovery is possible for everyone and you too can find happiness in the future.
If you are binge drinking regularly, quitting cold turkey could incur some serious health risks. Instead, attempt some alcohol-free days, leading up to a few alcohol-free weeks.
Seeking professional help is the safest way to heal from depression-alcohol problems. Choosing a treatment facility that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment will ensure you are in safe hands for your recovery process.
Treating Depression and Alcohol Misuse
Co-occurring disorder treatment is a specialist form of therapy, often called dual diagnosis. This enables you to address both disorders at the same time, increasing your chances of a full and sustainable recovery. If you focus only on the symptoms of depression, you are vulnerable to continued problem drinking which unfortunately can hinder any progress you make in treatment.
Everybody will have their own unique recovery journey and there are a number of therapies you can incorporate. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most commonly used treatments for the co-existence of these conditions. In this treatment, you will learn how to recognize negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones. This can help you identify triggering situations or thoughts which previously led you to drink, and empower you to find healthier coping strategies.
Some people may benefit from addiction or antidepressant medication to support their recovery, but these are usually best used in combination with other therapies.
Attending a mental health treatment facility can enable you to take part in support groups for people living with similar conditions. This can form an invaluable part of recovery for many individuals as it gives them a space to feel understood, heard, and respected throughout their healing process.
Brookdale Premier Addiction Recovery
At Brookdale, we offer premium addiction treatment in an exclusive environment to meet the unique needs of all our clients. Our center is situated beside a tranquil lake in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania.
We use a client-centered approach in all of our treatment options, ensuring that your recovery needs and goals are met. With our tailored treatment packages, we provide appropriate, personalized treatment for a range of mental health problems.
Our team is trained in dual diagnosis approaches and we work through the underlying causes of your conditions to ensure a sustainable recovery. We stay up to date with the newest clinical and experimental research and adapt our treatment approaches accordingly.
Mental ill health can be an extremely isolating experience; we want to help build back your confidence so that you can re-enter everyday life with the vibrancy and energy you are looking for.
Get in touch with us to find out more about our treatment programs and the facilities we offer. Our team is available to offer confidential advice and guidance about the options available to you. You can find us at (855)-575-1292 or visit our website today.