The subject of depression and alcohol often crops up in the addiction treatment sector, and there is an intricate relationship between these two complex conditions. What is the nature of these disorders, what came first? And, what are their symptoms, how they can be triggered, and the immediate and long-term effects they can have on an individual’s life?
Depression: An Introduction
Depression is a medical condition that involves a persistent feeling of sadness or a lack of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life. It’s more than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply ‘snap out’ of. Depression is a chronic condition that typically requires long-term treatment. But don’t get discouraged. Most people with depression feel better with medication, therapy or both.
Triggers of Depression
While it can sometimes appear without any evident trigger, depression is often precipitated by specific life events or circumstances. These may include enduring physical health issues, particularly those that are chronic or severe. Interpersonal difficulties such as relationship breakdowns can also contribute to depression onset. Other common triggers include unemployment, divorce, trauma and bereavement.
Also, drinking alcohol can also lead to depression. In fact, if an individual is already experiencing depressive symptoms, drinking alcohol can exacerbate these symptoms leading to a more severe depressive episode.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression manifests itself through a combination of physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms can vary widely among individuals but there are some common signs to look out for. These include continuous feelings of sadness or low mood, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, lack of motivation or interest in activities, and in some cases, thoughts of self-harm.
Physical symptoms of depression may include changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased), lack of energy, low sex drive and disturbed sleep patterns.
Alcohol and Its Effects
Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, can create feelings of relaxation making it easier for people to socialise, especially those who are somewhat introverted. However, alcohol also has several negative effects – the chemical itself is a depressant on the human system. It can also impair decision-making abilities and dull responses to environmental changes.
Immediate Effects of Alcohol
As the level of alcohol consumption increases, the effects become more severe. Speech may begin to slur, balance can be affected, and individuals may begin to act out of character, potentially leading to regrettable actions. Excessive alcohol consumption can result in feelings of sickness, and dizziness, and in some cases individuals may pass out. Furthermore, heavy drinking can lead to memory loss concerning events that occurred while under the influence, a condition referred to as an alcoholic blackout. The morning after consuming even relatively low amounts of alcohol can lead to low mood and temporary depression for many people.
Becoming Dependent on Alcohol
Alcohol dependence is a serious condition that can develop from regular, heavy alcohol use. The desire for the temporary feelings of relaxation and euphoria can lead to a vicious cycle of increasing consumption, especially when a tolerance to alcohol develops.
Signs of alcohol dependence include feeling of compulsion to drink instead of choosing to, obsessing about drinking, experiencing shaky hands and feelings of nervousness upon waking, drinking earlier in the day and allowing alcohol to negatively affect work and relationships. Regular binge-drinking, neglecting other areas of life, and continuing to drink despite the problems it causes are also signs of alcohol dependence. Many people who are dependent on alcohol often start to withdraw from other things in their life, such as social situations, family visits and recreational activities, which can have an impact on mental health and bring on depression.
Long-term Effects of Alcohol
Prolonged heavy drinking can have serious long-term effects, including mental health problems such as psychosis, where individuals may hear voices when there’s no one there. Frequent alcohol abuse can also lead to memory problems, such as Korsakoff’s Syndrome, or more severe conditions like alcohol-related dementia which is similar to Alzheimer’s dementia. Physical damage to organs such as the liver or brain can also occur as a result of chronic alcohol abuse.
Depression and Alcohol – A Complicated Relationship
Depression and alcohol have a complex and intertwined relationship. Depression can lead to alcohol misuse as individuals may use alcohol as a form of self-medication. Conversely, alcohol misuse can also lead to depression, creating a vicious cycle that can be challenging to break. Most dependent drinkers and alcoholics suffer depression at some point and it’s easy to see why. It causes situational depression because normal, happy life circumstances can become negatively affected including personal relationships, family, money and careers. It also affects sleep, which plays a huge role in regulating serotonin levels and circadian rhythms. The huge impact that large, sustained amounts of alcohol have on brain chemicals means that normal brain function is severely affected, causing clinical depression alongside situational problems.
Treatment for alcohol and depression usually involves removing the alcohol problem first. Then treating the depression. It is quite difficult to treat depression whilst someone is using high amounts of booze. Plus, any medical treatments for depression will not be as effective or work at all when consuming large amounts of alcohol. Medical advice should always be sought for depression and alcohol dependence.
It’s important to remember that it’s never too late to seek help and support, and there are many resources available for those struggling with these issues.
Understanding the nature of depression and alcohol dependence is the first step towards managing these conditions. Both are serious health issues that can have significant impacts on an individual’s life. However, with the right alcohol treatment and support, recovery happens. It’s essential to reach out to health professionals if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or alcohol dependence.
You Are Not Alone
Remember, you are not alone, and help is available. If you’d like to speak to one of our addiction experts for free, confidential advice, please get in touch.