Alcoholism and Depression: How Alcohol Affect Depression
Despite alcohol being legal, alcoholism and alcohol addiction are huge problems in the United States. Alcoholism can often be overlooked because alcohol is a legal substance. However, similar to illicit and prescription drugs, alcohol affects the brain’s chemistry. Ideally, once the effects of alcohol wear off, the brain returns to functioning regularly. But that is not always the case.
The signs and symptoms of an alcohol use disorder and depression are similar, so it can be difficult to determine one from the other. Each disorder by itself can cause various problems in someone’s life, but when they are co-occurring, someone may experience enhanced issues with finances, legal problems and maintaining employment and relationships.
Because alcohol is a depressant, it relaxes the body unlike a stimulant, which can speed up processes in the body. In other words, alcohol can make depressive symptoms worse and can cause depression in some instances. The body can build a tolerance to alcohol which creates the need for more alcohol to be consumed to experience the same feelings of intoxication. This development can create a cycle where someone with depression drinks to cope with their symptoms but the alcohol ends up making them feel even more depressed and they tend to drink more.
Drinking more alcohol, more frequently can worsen depressive symptoms because alcohol can interfere with neurotransmitters in the brain that can affect mental health. Several studies found that about 60 percent of people with an alcohol use disorder who experience symptoms of depression meet the diagnostic criteria for a co-occurring disorder diagnosis. The other 40 percent of people with alcohol use disorders who have had symptoms of depression are likely to have an independent depressive disorder, which means that they were likely already living with depression before the development of an alcohol use disorder.
People usually binge drink to get drunk, whether they’re trying to get drunk to have fun or to numb their emotions. Despite being a depressant, people often use alcohol to help alleviate depressive symptoms. The initial feelings of euphoria and pleasure may make someone experiencing feelings of depression feel better for a little bit, but after those effects wear off the depressive symptoms usually return.
Conversely, depression can develop after frequent binge drinking. Alcohol can trigger depressive symptoms and people with a mental health history or family history are at a higher risk of developing depression after binge drinking.
After drinking, the altered brain chemistry is usually why someone feels more anxious or depressed following a night of drinking. Drinking can also hinder the development of healthy coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms can help people with mental health conditions manage their disorder so if they aren’t developed, it can worsen a disorder. Instead of using coping mechanisms, people who drink heavily are more likely to choose alcohol to cope with anxiety, depression or another mental health disorder.
People who have an alcohol addiction or are drinking heavily have a higher chance of developing depression compared to someone who doesn’t drink. Co-occurring disorders like alcohol use disorder and depression can have a cyclical relationship, someone with depression may drink to escape their symptoms and when their depression worsens they drink more alcohol.
There’s no catch-all treatment for alcohol use disorder and depression. And unfortunately, not all doctors are experienced in identifying and treating co-occurring disorders. When seeking treatment, it’s essential to find a doctor or treatment center that can create an individualized treatment plan for a patient’s specific situation.
If you or someone you know struggles with an alcohol use disorder and co-occurring disorders, like depression, know that help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals can create an individualized treatment plan to suit your needs. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which treatment program could work for you
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.