Alcohol and Depression

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Alcohol And Depression: Explaining The Connection

Alcohol is common all over the world. Many people indulge in it regularly without any problem, but some develop dependencies or addictions to the substance. Alcohol also has been linked to depression.

While drinking moderately and occasionally is safe for many people, drinking alcohol may become a problem if people start drinking more than a drink or two daily and constantly crave alcohol. They may continue to drink even when it adversely affects their lives, relationships, and ability to support themselves. The inability to stop drinking voluntarily is a sign of dependency.

Combining alcohol and depression may be very dangerous.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mental condition that may make people feel sad, hopeless, numb, and at times, suicidal. Workplace costs, direct costs, and costs related to suicide meant that the economic cost of depression was more than $200 billion in just 2010 alone.

The condition is all-encompassing. Depression affects most aspects of a person’s life. It affects people’s productivity at work, their relationships with others, and their overall will to live. They experience reduced energy levels that may contribute to lower incomes due to absenteeism or unemployment, poor relationships with others, and, in severe cases, suicide.

Mental illnesses such as depression are more common than many people think. Depression usually manifests in one’s late teens or young adulthood. Women are more likely than men to have the condition. It is estimated that at least one-third of the female population will experience depression at some point in their lives.

While the causes of depression are not well-known, genetics may be a major determinant. Personality is also a factor. People with low self-esteem are more likely to be depressed.

Types of Depression

There are different types of depression:

  • People experience severe episodes of depression. They will slump into a funk and be unable to perform the most basic functions. While some people only suffer one episode, others experience several slumps throughout their lives.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: A prolonged depressive state that may last as long as two years. In rare cases, it may last for life.
  • Psychotic depression: Bouts of psychosis when people become delusional and experience hallucinations.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): A type of depression that starts in late autumn and early winter. It is triggered by the decreasing amount of daily sunlight and is often treated with light therapy.
  • Bipolar disorder: Alternating periods of mania (high highs) and depression (low lows). This disorder sometimes has clear indicators. Some sufferers know when they are about to experience a low period. Formerly known as manic depression.
  • Prenatal and postpartum depression: Depression that occurs while women are pregnant (prenatal depression) or within a year after they gave birth (postnatal depression).

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Symptoms of Depression

Depression may start as an overwhelming sadness that does not seem to end. The feeling leads to hopelessness and then a slump in energy. Sufferers lose interest in things they previously enjoyed and want to be left alone. While these symptoms may seem normal, as most people feel sad at different times, in the case of major depression, they do not go away.

Signs that people may have major depression include:

  • They are sadder than you have ever seen them.
  • They do not enjoy the things they did before.
  • They are perennially tired and hopeless.
  • They have difficulty making simple decisions.
  • They have low self-esteem.
  • They are irritable most of the time.
  • They have a difficult time concentrating.
  • They are eating too little or too much.
  • They want to sleep all the time or cannot seem to sleep.
  • They constantly feel guilty.
  • They say they are having suicidal thoughts.

Relationship Between Alcohol and Depression

Even though alcohol is a depressant, many sufferers of depression use and abuse it. According to estimates, 30 percent to 40 percent of alcoholics suffer from depressive disorders. Some people are genetically predisposed to both alcohol and depression and so the occurrence of one often leads to the other.

The alcohol use sometimes starts as a way of dulling the symptoms of depression. But alcohol is a depressant, so it may make depression worse. Alcohol only gives false hope to people with depression. It does nothing to make their depressive symptoms go away.

Drinking alcohol makes depression worse because it lengthens depressive episodes. It creates family conflicts, produces absences from work or school, and may lead to suicidal thoughts. As alcohol is addictive, people with depression and alcoholism have two co-occurring conditions but may be unlikely to seek help for either.

Alcoholism can cause depression. Addiction to alcohol and other drugs rewires the brain, alters chemical reactions, and affects neurotransmitters. The individual’s habits change. Hangovers and other ill effects make sufferers feel even worse about themselves, prolonging their depressive episodes.

People who already use antidepressants risk making their depression worse if they drink. Alcohol makes many medications less effective or may cause dangerous interactions.

To improve their conditions, people with depression must stop consuming alcohol. Quitting drinking may be difficult and make depression seem worse for a time, but it is necessary to restore a person’s mental and physical health.

Alcoholism and Depression: Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis treatment provides care for substance abuse and mental illnesses. One of the main challenges of dual diagnosis treatment is knowing where alcoholism ends and depression begins. The relationship between the two is complicated. Physicians may wonder whether the depressive state is caused by an underlying mental condition or the chronic abuse of alcohol.

In the same vein, it is difficult to ascertain whether alcohol abuse is caused by a depressive state. Would treating the person’s depression be as easy as addressing his or her alcohol problem? Would the person stop feeling depressed after he or she receives detox and alcohol rehab?

Recent research suggests addressing alcohol abuse first. In this case, medical detox is necessary to help people manage their withdrawal symptoms while removing the toxins caused by chronic alcohol abuse.

Once people end their physical dependence to alcohol and are actively addressing their emotional dependence, they may address co-occurring mental illnesses such as depression.

Depression Treatment Options

Depression not only reduces people’s ability to enjoy life. It may also cost them their lives if not addressed. Alcohol use disorder may also prove fatal. When depression and alcohol abuse treatment go hand in hand, it is futile to treat just one.

While antidepressants are not usually used to treat addiction and are discouraged in 12-step programs, they may be useful to treat addiction and depression.

Antidepressants may stabilize people’s moods. People may have better control of themselves and experience fewer cravings for alcohol. Less addictive than other types of drugs, antidepressants are not likely to be abused. People may feel the effects of antidepressants in as little as two weeks. Doctors advise that people use them for at least a year, even after their depression subsides.

While medication may be useful, it works even better with some form of therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be especially effective for helping people change their behaviors and ways of thinking. Talk therapy and lifestyle changes are also beneficial.

Medication is not the only option. With increasing awareness about depression and the lessening of stigma towards people with mental illness, more people are opening up about it.

Aftercare Services for Alcohol and Depression

Alcohol addiction has a high rate of relapse. This means there is a high likelihood that people may drink again after receiving rehab treatment. According to research, people will fall off the wagon (relapse) 40 to 60 percent of the time.

The first year of sobriety is critical. This time period is when relapse is most likely to occur. The chance of relapse drops in the second year. After five years without a drink, the likelihood of relapse drops to just 15 percent.

Before you leave the safe confines of a alcohol rehab center, your counselor will craft an aftercare program for you. You do not know if you are recovered until you are thrust into the real world and can cope without turning to alcohol.

Recovery can be a lonely road, especially if all of your friends were drinking buddies, but you do not have to face sobriety on your own.

  • The 12-step peer support group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) may have scheduled meetings near you. You may join a meeting and participate free of charge.
  • Treatment centers have outpatient aftercare services available for their clients.
  • Sober living houses are also available to help you transition back into mainstream society. They are like halfway houses where people live as they work on their issues.

Find Help Now

Depression steals your joy and makes you feel as though you are in a never-ending downward spiral. Combined with alcohol dependency, it may make you feel hopeless.

While you may feel alone, you are not. Many people are going through the same thing and help is never far away. There are rehabilitation centers for alcohol and depression ready to give you the attention you need to get your life back.

It all starts with recognizing the symptoms and deciding you want help. Contact an expert who will create a treatment plan specifically for you.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance use disorder, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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