Alcohol and Depression

Abusing alcohol and depression often go hand in hand, and it's not a good combination.

Alcohol, contrary to what many people believe, is a depressant. Many people believe it to have stimulant qualities because the first drink or two of alcohol will often make a person feel more upbeat or excited. You might feel that a few drinks makes feel more relaxed and less stressed. Biologically, however, this is untrue. Alcohol depresses the brain and nervous system, and lowers serotonin and norepinephrine levels. 

Alcohol and depression do not mix well. Here are some of the reasons:

  • While alcohol may make you feel less stressed, at least temporarily, after it wears off, people most often feel worse.
  • There can be dangerous interactions between medications used for depression and alcohol. This can include over-the-counter medications as well.
  • Alcohol is a depressant and can make depression more severe.
  • Alcohol makes a person feel less inhibited.
  • Alcohol definitely affects one's judgment.
  • Alcohol affects the quality of sleep a person gets in a negative way.
  • Alcohol can cause or worsen other health problems such as liver disease (in the form of hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver failure), irregular heartbeat, sexual difficulties, ulcers, etc.
  • Alcohol can also make a person more violent and aggressive.
  • Alcohol can make one more sensitive and prone to sadness and make a person engage in actions that they otherwise would not 

While these side effects and symptoms can happen to people drinking alcohol even if they aren't depressed, depression or medications used for depression can really exacerbate these effects.

Other Facts About Alcohol and Depression

  • Folate deficiency can lead to depression. The use of alcohol can lower folic acid levels.
  • The depression caused by alcohol increases as the blood-alcohol concentration increases.
  • Some people are genetically predisposed to depression, and alcohol use can trigger that.

It has been shown that heredity can play an important role in both abuse of alcohol and depression. If you have a family history of either one, you are more likely to develop one or both of these conditions. Also if you have depression, alcoholism is going to make it much worse and if you drink alcohol, depression is going to make you more likely to become an alcoholic.

Of course, there's more than genetics that is involved. Your upbringing, your home, and your social environment can also play a big role in determining whether you experience depression or alcoholism or both. Abused children and children raised in poverty are more likely to experience depression or have a drinking problem. Children and teens who have had an episode of major depression are more likely to also start drinking alcohol. Women seem to have more of a tendency than men to start drinking after becoming depressed. These are only a few of the variables that can factor into whether a person develops a depression and alcohol problem.

Does Depression Cause Alcohol Abuse? Does Alcohol Abuse Cause Depression?

It is controversial as to whether alcohol abuse causes depression or depression causes alcohol abuse. It appears that both can be true. If you suffer from depression, you are more likely to drink alcohol an an unhealthy manner, which can just make your depression worse.  If you are abusing alcohol, it can trigger a genetic predisposition to depression, which in turn will often make your alcoholism and depression more severe. 

If you suffer from both depression and alcoholism, treatment will be most successful if the treatment plan addresses both conditions. It is very important to seek treatment from someone or an institution that is experienced in treating both disorders simultaneously. Individuals who suffer from depression and alcoholism are at greater risk of having car accidents, attempting suicide, and engaging in other harmful or high risk activities. The two conditions together can make a person much more impulsive and certainly can impair judgment. In other words, the two combined can be deadly.

How Can You Tell If Someone Has an Alcohol and Depression Problem?

    Signs of Depression
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Loss of interest in normal day to day activities
  • Loss of feelings of joy and pleasure
  • Weight loss or weight gain. Change in appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • Irritable, restless, low tolerance, agitated or on edge
  • Fatigue, feeling incapable of doing even simple things
  • Feeling worthless
  • Very critical of self
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Forgetfulness
  • Headaches, stomach pain, back pain, painful muscles

Alcohol Abuse Symptoms

  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Drinking and driving
  • Mixing alcohol with prescription medication
  • Repeated legal problems from drinking
  • Problems in relationships related to drinking
  • Drinking to relax or de-stress
  • Alcohol is consumed as a response to worry and problems
  • Too much alcohol is consumed every day
  • Alcohol is used to fall asleep
  • Excessive alcohol is consumed alone
  • One feels very guilty because they drink too much

A lot of people might exhibit one or more of these signs, but that doesn't necessarily make them an alcoholic. It's important to see the bigger picture. A lot of us have a few drinks to unwind, or have had a little bit too much to drink and didn't feel so great the next morning. This doesn't make someone an alcoholic. When these things are persistent and really start to affect someone's life in a negative way and they still won't stop drinking, that's when it can become pretty worrisome.

When you put the two lists together and see that alcohol is being used in an attempt to self-treat symptoms of depression or a loved one's drinking habits increase and the signs of depression start to appear, then you should get help right away.

Treatment for Alcohol and Depression

If you or a loved one has concern about alcohol or depression or both, immediately seek help. There are many different types of alcohol treatment programs. The treatment program can include individual counseling, detoxification, medication, and inpatient or outpatient intensive rehabilitation. Also, don’t forgot about the importance of a healthy diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, and other holistic treatments, which for many people can be very beneficial. It is beneficial to find some sort of treatment that will address both the alcohol issues as well as the depression. 

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