Alcohol and Depression
Does alcohol cause depression?
Alcohol plays a major part in depression and other mental health disorders. The impact of alcohol on mental health can be quite extensive and drinking can worsen a person’s vulnerable mental health. If not addressed and/or treated, alcohol misuse can cause a problematic cycle in which an individual experiences worsening mental health issues.
At the same time, an individual struggling from depression and other mental health issues can fall into alcohol as a safety net. The alcoholism can increase due to the individual seeking refuge from depression courtesy of the bottle.
The symptoms of depression can worse due to alcohol misuse13.S. E. Ramsey, P. A. Engler and M. D. Stein, Alcohol Use Among Depressed Patients: The Need for Assessment and Intervention – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2874911/. When treated by a healthcare professional for depression, an individual’s alcohol misuse may improve. In addition, an individual suffering with alcoholism can find their depression symptoms are alleviated when they receive help for their drink problem. In the case of alcohol and depression, as one of the issues improves, the symptoms for the other may also improve.
Unfortunately, the process isn’t quick nor easy. Alcohol and depression are long roads that take total commitment from those suffering from the two. The combination between depression and alcohol is just one of the infinite combinations (or multiples) of substance use and mental health disorders that form the basis of Dual Diagnosis. It is this dual nature of suffering that is largely untreated, and accounts for the vast majority of mental health problems in the United States.
Dual Diagnosis Explained
Dual Diagnosis was conceived more than 20 years ago and describes a practice that treats people who have both an addiction and a psychiatric disorder. For example, an individual may be addicted to alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, as well as suffer from other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and PTSD. Dual Diagnosis treats these problems in such a way that the patient can achieve a complete and lasting recovery.
How does alcohol and depression affect the brain?
The simple truth is alcohol is a depressant. While it can make an individual feel good when they consume it, alcohol reacts with the brain and body to disrupt its balance. The feeling of euphoria and excitement that many people get from drinking alcohol quickly subsides and it can cause the opposite effect.
Alcoholic drinks suppress the area of brain that is associated with inhibition. When this occurs, an individual no longer reacts to situations in a natural way. A person already dealing with mental health issues is now more likely to react in very unnatural ways.
As a person consumes more alcohol, its impact on the brain increases. Although a person may be in a positive mood, the potential for negative emotions to come out and overtake the “happy” feelings is high. Negative emotions caused by the consumption of alcohol can then have a massive impact on a person’s mental health declining.
Along with depression, the consumption of alcohol can also lead to aggressive behavior in individuals. Due to the brain’s chemistry, the impact alcohol can have on a person is unpredictable and some people can be ticking timebombs when drinking and poor mental health are combined.
Alcohol blocks the chemical signals in a person’s brain. The more drink that is consumed, the more a person feels drunk. False and temporary feelings are created when chemical signals are blocked.
Some of the feelings that a person will experience with the effects of alcohol include:
- Improved/increased confidence
- A lack of inhibitions
- Increased impulsiveness
- More aggression and quicker anger
- Increased anxiety
- Increased levels/potential of depression
There are some factors that go into how alcohol affects a person’s brain. Age, health, and the amount a person drinks all contribute to the brain’s reaction to alcohol.
How does alcohol worsen depression?
Alcohol and depression go hand and hand. When a person feels down, they tend to drink more alcohol to improve the way in which they feel. The relief a person feels is often temporary or false. Once the individual sobers up, they feel depressed, low, and guilty for their actions.
The guilt leads to a deeper depression. The feeling of depression then leads to further drinking as a person self-medicates with drink. The spiral then continues with the depression and drinking getting worse over time.
Depression and alcohol can be a dangerous cocktail that leads to a person committing self-harm or taking their own life. The impulsiveness that alcohol brings on in a person can be amplified by poor mental health and when a person’s depression is worsened by alcohol, they can make a decision that wouldn’t otherwise be made.
Alcohol doesn’t just cause depression. It can also lead to psychosis in individuals who drink extreme levels of alcohol. Extreme levels are categorized as over 30 units of alcohol per day for multiple weeks24.A. Farré and J. Tirado, JCM | Free Full-Text | Alcohol Induced Depression: Clinical, Biological and Genetic Features | HTML, MDPI.; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/9/8/2668/htm. Psychosis causes a person to experience hallucinations and delusions. The mental illness of psychosis often occurs when a person drinks heavily for a period of time then stops suddenly.
Depression is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. When a person stops drinking, they will experience bouts of depression. Depression can be experienced by a person regardless of binge drinking or long-term alcohol abuse. The feeling of being low during withdrawal leads to the cycle of drinking, feeling depressed, repeat.
How can alcohol and depression be relieved?
The first thing an individual must do to end their drink-related depression is to stop consuming alcohol. Once the consumption of alcohol is ceased, an individual will see a large amount of improvement in their mental and physical health. It is claimed that a person who ends their alcohol consumption completely can see major differences in as little as four weeks.
A person will often feel better by simply lowering the amount of alcohol they consume. The depression levels can lower and the difficulties of facing the day are eliminated. In addition, individuals can find it is easier to communicate and carry on relationships.
How is alcohol and depression treated?
The upside to alcohol and depression is the treatment of one can improve the other.
The most commonly used treatments for alcohol abuse and depression are:
- Medication – Alcohol may impact the neurotransmitters in a person’s brain. This causes depression to worsen over time. A doctor may prescribe antidepressants to improve a person’s neurotransmitter levels which relieves depression symptoms. Doctors may also prescribe medication that decreases a person’s craving for alcohol.
- Rehab – A rehab facility can help a person go through withdrawal and cope with the effects of alcoholism post-withdraw.
- Therapy – Therapy often goes hand in hand with rehab. CBT specifically enables a person to understand why they drink to excess and how it leads to depression. CBT can help an individual deal with their thoughts in a more constructive way.
- Support groups – Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and others can help individuals through support. Meetings enable people to speak about their problems and to see how others deal with the same issues.
- 13.S. E. Ramsey, P. A. Engler and M. D. Stein, Alcohol Use Among Depressed Patients: The Need for Assessment and Intervention – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2874911/
- 24.A. Farré and J. Tirado, JCM | Free Full-Text | Alcohol Induced Depression: Clinical, Biological and Genetic Features | HTML, MDPI.; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/9/8/2668/htm
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