Alcohol and Depression: How Are They Related?

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Alcoholism and Depression [1] are closely and conversely linked. That means that being depressed can lead to an overindulgence in alcohol, and having an alcohol addiction can lead to or exacerbate the symptoms of depression. 

In this article, Avenues Recovery will explore the connection between alcohol and depression. Does alcohol make depression worse? Or does alcohol help depression? Read on to learn more.

The Link Between Alcohol and Depression

Clinical Depression is more than just feeling down from time to time. We all get the blues sometimes and can feel sad, hopeless, or even depressed. This is normal. But clinical depression is not just a feeling, it's a diagnosis. The spectrum of depressive disorders is characterized by symptoms of sadness, irritability, and emptiness that affect a person's ability to function over an extended period of time.

Some common symptoms of Depression include:

●     Persistent low moods

●     Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

●     Insomnia or considerable oversleeping

●     Reduced appetite or increased cravings for food

●     Lack of energy, slowed thinking, speaking or body movements

●     Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, suicidal thoughts


If you or a loved one shows signs of Depression, it's important to see a medical professional immediately for diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, Depression is receptive to medication, and symptoms can be lightened or eliminated with the right course of treatment.

Does Alcohol Make You Depressed?

Alcohol is a depressant. It affects your brain’s natural level of happiness chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. This means that although you’ll feel an initial ‘boost’ the night before, the next day you will be deficient in these same chemicals, which may lead to feeling anxious, down, or depressed.

The problem is that the relaxing effects of alcohol wear off quickly, and the more you drink, the greater your tolerance for alcohol, which means that you have to continue to drink more to reach the same feeling.

This pattern can quickly spiral into alcohol dependence, abuse, or addiction.

On the one hand, drinking seems to temporarily relieve some symptoms of depression. Many people enjoy a drink after a long and stressful day, and there is no problem with occasionally indulging in a cocktail. Alcohol slows down the processes in your brain and might make you feel more relaxed. But don't let this fool you into thinking that alcohol can actually help depression. In fact, the opposite is true.

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What is an Alcohol Addiction?

Alcoholism, known as alcohol use disorder or AUD, is a condition in which a person has a physical need to consume alcohol.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) [2] describes alcohol use disorder as “an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences”.

A person with alcohol use disorder doesn’t know when or how to stop drinking. They spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol and they cannot control how much they consume, even if it is causing serious problems at home, work, or financially.

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Symptoms of AUD Include:

●     Drinking alone or secretly

●     Hiding alcoholic beverages from friends and family members

●     Feeling irritable after a period of time without alcohol

●     Needing more alcohol to feel its relaxing effect

●     Experiencing sweating, shaking, or nausea when not drinking

While it is definitely normal to indulge in an alcoholic beverage every once in a while, it's worth keeping track of your frequency. It’s only a thin fine line between healthy occasional drinking and developing addiction. The easiest way to work out how much you are drinking is to count the units of alcohol in your drinks.

One unit is ten ml of pure alcohol. That’s the amount in a standard twenty-five ml measure of spirits, half a pint of 4% beer or lager, or a 100 ml glass of 12% wine. The current advice is to remain below the weekly limit of fourteen units for both men and women, but also to have drink-free days.

Drinking and Depression: What is the Connection?

Depression and AUD are intertwined and related in many ways. Nearly one-third of people with major depression also have an alcohol problem. And research shows [3] that teens who have had a bout of major depression are twice as likely to have problems with alcohol abuse in the future.

The cycle can go either way. Drinking too much can cause feelings of failure and depression, or you can drink to “drown your sorrows” and use it as an escape from the blues. Either way, alcohol increases the risk of depression, and waking up with a hangover can make you feel sick, anxious, and guilty. Aside from the immediate effects of the alcohol, a person with AUD generally already has, or created problems for themselves at home, work, or in relationships. These failures and frustrations can cause them to turn to drinking to forget the negative feelings, which can quickly spiral into alcohol induced depression.

Alcohol addiction is proven to negatively affect the symptoms of Depression, making the symptoms worse, not better. It can enhance the severity and duration of a depressive episode.

In fact, in a study [4] of people with depression, those that cut back or eliminated alcohol for four weeks reported a noticeable difference in their depressive symptoms.

Depression and Alcohol: How to Move Forward?

Both Alcohol Use Disorder and Depression are fully treatable conditions. An individual suffering from one or both can recover fully and go on to lead a happy and productive life.

But the first step is to get help.

If Depression is driving you to turn to drinking, it's important to address the Depression first, and that should eventually lead to a decrease in alcohol consumption as well.

Treatments for Depression include medication, and group and individual therapy.

If you suffer from AUD and you drink alcohol when depressed, the first step is to address the alcohol addiction. Once you are abstinent, you will see a huge difference in your depressive symptoms.

The good news is that there are many resources for people suffering from Alcoholism and Depression and their families. Recovering from Alcoholism and Depression is a journey, but one filled with hope and support!

Avenues Recovery has helped countless addicts suffering from Depression and alcoholic addiction to recover fully. We’re here to support you throughout your journey. You can contact us 24/7 for support and to find out more information about addiction recovery and dual diagnosis treatment.

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