Depression After Quitting Alcohol

Depression After Quitting Alcohol

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Depression After Quitting Alcohol

If you have decided to end your tumultuous relationship with alcohol: congratulations. Most people say it was the most impactful and important decision they ever made in their entire life — despite how difficult of a decision it is. Stopping your consumption of alcohol after being heavily involved with it for a significant amount of time is no easy feat and the majority of those who choose to do so seek out professional help as the road can be rocky.

Depression after Quitting Alcohol

Despite the difficult period of time that may follow your decision to stop consuming alcohol, it is well worth the time and effort. After the initial difficult months, many people find themselves rolling down into easier days without their previous comfort of alcohol. Everyone is different and many cross the finish line at different times and with different side effects. Many people find themselves dealing with depression after quitting drinking1 This is not uncommon and if you are feeling that way – you are not alone. Alcohol was once a way you used to enjoy life or cope with the difficult parts of life. You are better of without it, but that does not take away the feelings you may have after you remove it from your life completely.

Why do people get depression after quitting drinking?

Why do people develop depression after quitting drinking? Well, that’s complicated and it could be for many different reasons. Many people began drinking alcohol to help alleviate symptoms of depression. Now that they do not have what they used to cope with their depression, all they are left with is their depression. And others may have experienced depression after they began their relationship with alcohol. It can be both the reason you began drinking and part of the reason you needed to stop. It is not the same with everybody, but it is difficult for everyone nonetheless.

In clinical terms this is called Dual Diagnosis and it is very common for alcohol use disorder to present with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. A treatment professional will work on identifying whether the alcohol use disorder came first and caused the depression or whether the depression existed before the alcohol use disorder. It is important to treat both conditions to achieve lasting recovery.

Depressive Disorder after Quitting Alcohol

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a condition that affects many people — whether or not they have recently ended their relationship with alcohol. It affects the way you feel, think, and behave. It is treatable, but not an easy condition to live with or deal with. It typically manifests through a lack of interest in life or things you used to enjoy and feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

Symptoms of depression and depression after quitting alcohol can include but are not limited to:

  • -feeling sad, hopeless
  • -loss of interest in things you were once interested in
  • -difficulty sleeping
  • -change in appetite
  • -feeling worthless
  • -thoughts of death and suicide

Why do I get depression after quitting alcohol?

Alcohol is called a depressant2 This means it slows down your brain function and neural activity. The results of depressants can show up with light alcohol use or drunkenness (slurred speech, loss of mobility, and in light alcohol use – relaxation). This slow down and impairment of your brain and neural activity increase the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA as a neurotransmitter is an inhibitor. Meaning, it slows down the firing of neural activity and other important neurotransmitters. Other neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin typically make us feel good and GABA inhibits the productivity and firing of these feel-good neurotransmitters. You may experience temporary dopamine and serotonin through alcohol use, but when those temporary effects wear off and are gone, so are those neurotransmitters. And — if you have been heavily consuming alcohol over a long period of time, the part of your brain that creates dopamine, serotonin, and other feel-good neurotransmitters does not work the way that it needs to.

Relationship between alcohol and depression

When our brain is unable to produce chemicals that make us feel good, conditions like depression are typically the result. And because depression is something that exists outside of alcohol abuse, most experts say that it is wise to treat alcoholism and depression separately. In this case, they are called co-conditions or co-occurring disorders and they often feed off of each other and can make each condition much worse. Much of the treatment may overlap and affect the other condition, but they are two different conditions and can be serious. Therefore, each needs time and attention specifically made for that condition.

Alcohol treatment depends on your specific situation and may include residential rehab, detoxing, outpatient rehabilitative treatment, or post-treatment aftercare or educational programs.

Treatment for depression after quitting alcohol can include several different forms of therapy:

support groups – just like with alcohol abuse, there are groups created for individuals who are struggling with all sorts of conditions – including depression. These support groups can help you develop and maintain tools that you work on during therapy.

Holistic therapy & relaxation or meditative techniques – are often used in tandem with traditional therapy. Practices like yoga and meditation have been proven to help balance the mind. A therapist can assist in deciding what activities would be beneficial and enjoyable for you to implement in your recovery time.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & traditional therapy – This is vital professional time if you are experiencing depression. These professionals know specifically what can cause this condition and how you can use different techniques to alleviate the condition. This should often be your first stop when seeking help or treatment for depression and the other methods listed should be used in tandem per the recommendation of your therapist or counselor.

Antidepressants – if your counselor or therapist believes you are in need of physical help with your condition, they can prescribe antidepressants that help alleviate the effects of GABA and other inhibitory transmitters.

Depression may be a side effect and not an easy one

Depression after quitting alcohol is not a simple or easy thing to deal with, but it is not uncommon and you are not alone. Taking the step to remove alcohol from your life was important and something you will be thankful for the rest of your life. Depression may be a side effect and not an easy one, but it is treatable. Professionals can help you with alleviating the symptoms and condition just as you have done and are continuing to do with quitting alcohol. And just like with other needs for treatment, there are support groups to guide and walk through the process with you.

Click to Reveal the Worlds Best Depression Treatment Centers

References & Citations: Depression After Quitting Alcohol

  1. Agartz I, Brag S, Franck J, et al. MR volumetry during acute alcohol withdrawal and abstinence: A descriptive study. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2003;38:71–78. [PubMed] []
  2. American Psychiatric Association . Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder. Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 1994. []
  3. Carlen PL, Wortzman G, Holgate RC, et al. Reversible cerebral atrophy in recently abstinent chronic alcoholics measured by computed tomography scans. Science. 1978;200:1076–1078. []
  4. Harper C, Kril J. If you drink your brain will shrink: Neuropathological considerations. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 1991;(Supplement 1):375–380. []
  5. Koob GF. Dynamics of neuronal circuits in addiction: Reward, antireward, and emotional memory. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2009;42(Suppl 1):S32–S41. []
  6. Makris N, Oscar-Berman M, Jaffin SK, et al. Depression after quitting drinking. Biological Psychiatry. 2008;64:192–202. []
  7. Pfefferbaum A, Lim KO, Desmond JE, Sullivan EV. Thinning of the corpus callosum in older alcoholic men: A magnetic resonance imaging study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 1996;20:752–757. [PubMed] []
  8. Sullivan EV, Desmond JE, Lim KO, Pfefferbaum A. Speed and efficiency but not accuracy or timing deficits of limb movements in alcoholic men and women. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2002;26:705–713. [PubMed] []
  9. Victor M, Adams RD, Collins GH. The Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and Related Neurologic Disorders Due to Alcoholism and Malnutrition. 2nd Edition. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Co; 1989. []
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