Some people tend to drink more when they are depressed, and others may report intensified feelings of sadness after drinking. But, are depression and alcohol actually linked; and, if so, how?
What is Depression?
Depression affects more than 264 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of disability, data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows.
Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is a common and serious medical condition that negatively impacts the way a person feels, thinks, and acts. Depression causes sad feelings and/or the loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. Depression can cause a number of emotional and physical issues as well as decrease your ability to function— in both professional and home settings. The good news is, depression can be treated.
Depression symptoms may vary from mild to severe, including:
- Feelings of sadness and low mood
- Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
- Changes in appetite
- Weight loss or weight gain with no changes to diet
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sleeping too much
- Fatigue, lethargy
- Feeling worthless, guilty
- Hard time concentrating and making decisions
- Thoughts about death or suicide
There are also several forms of depression, including:
- Persistent depressive disorder: This is depression that lasts more than two years.
- Postpartum depression: This form of depression happens during or after pregnancy and impairs a mother’s ability to care for her new baby.
- Psychotic depression: This depression is experienced with a distortion of reality, such as hallucinations or delusions.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): SAD typically occurs in the fall and winter and is commonly linked to the lack of natural light during those months.
- Bipolar disorder: Although not classified as a depressive disorder, people with bipolar disorder encounter very low moods that fit the criteria for major depression while simultaneously experiencing periods of extreme highs or mania.
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What is Alcoholism?
Not everybody who struggles with alcohol abuse is addicted to alcohol, but it’s helpful to understand warning signs and symptoms that can put you at risk of developing alcoholism. Alcoholism happens when a person is no longer able to control their alcohol use, and they begin compulsively abusing it despite its negative ramifications. People dealing with alcoholism also experience emotional distress when they are not drinking or cannot drink.
The symptoms of alcoholism include:
- Repeatedly drinking more alcohol than intended
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit drinking
- Experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal when not drinking
- Developing a high tolerance to alcohol
- Drinking despite knowing it makes problems worse
- Drinking to the point where roles at work and home are unable to be fulfilled
- Strong alcohol cravings
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The Link Between Depression and Addiction
Some people turn to the bottle to try and cope with their depression.
In fact, statistics show 30-40% of alcoholics experience a depressive order. The reasons why people turn to alcohol to deal with depression aren’t known for certain, but researchers believe it has something to do with the sedative effects of alcohol and its ability to distract users from persistent sad feelings.
Alcohol can temporarily relieve some of the symptoms associated with depression, but alcohol can actually make depression worse in the long run. That’s because alcohol abuse can negatively impact nearly every aspect of life.
Once a person begins to experience the financial, career, and personal life consequences of alcohol abuse, their relationships and career may start to suffer, and their depression will become much worse. This often starts a vicious cycle of alcohol abuse as an attempt to self-medicate the sad feelings Then, the depression gets worse because of the continued alcohol abuse.
Once someone begins to abuse alcohol on a regular basis, physical dependence and addiction often follow—and fast.
Does Alcohol Cure Depression?
While it does make sense that people try to seek out the short-term relief that alcohol can bring to depression, the reality is alcohol does not cure depression. On the contrary, alcohol worsens depression. Alcohol itself is a depressant that can cause problems to seem way worse than they actually are.
Alcohol can enhance both the severity and duration of many common symptoms of depression, including:
- Feelings of guilt
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Digestive issues
- Persistent aches and pains
What’s more is that alcohol makes antidepressants less effective, which can cause the alcohol’s effects to impact the depressed person that much worse.
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Does Alcohol Abuse Cause Depression?
Yes. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), depression can occur and worsen with alcohol abuse. When a person experiences depression as a result of alcohol abuse, it’s likely the feelings will go away, at least partially, after they stop consuming alcohol.
Here are some examples of how alcohol’s effects on the body exacerbate depression symptoms:
- Alcohol lowers levels of serotonin and norepinephrine— two chemicals that help regulate mood. When these levels drop, a depressed person becomes more depressed.
- Alcohol both disrupts sleep and alters the thought process, which can increase symptoms of depression.
- Stress and alcohol use can activate a gene linked to depression. This gene can cause seizures, depression, manic-depressive episodes, and other mental issues, according to the National Institutes of Health.
- Alcohol can lower levels of folic acid. Folic acid deficiency is common in people with depression.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
The combination of depression and alcohol abuse is so common that it has a term: Dual Diagnosis. Therefore, when a person is suffering from the two conditions, they should seek out dual diagnosis treatment. In fact, studies show that treating both depression and alcohol use disorder results in better outcomes than when patients only seek treatment for alcoholism.
Treating dual diagnosis requires a specialized approach that we offer at Emerald Isle Health and Recovery. Treating one condition without the other is a recipe for relapse. Think about it like this: A person with alcoholism is suffering from an addictive disorder.
If a doctor prescribes them an addictive medication for their de-pression, they are likely to become addicted to the medication. That’s why dual diagnosis treatment is so important because it considers both diagnoses when coming up with a safe and effective treatment plan.
Dual diagnosis treatment addresses both alcohol abuse and the depression and often includes a mix of therapies, including private and group counseling, behav-ioral therapy, medications to ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and treat depression, and long-term aftercare planning to help maintain sobriety.
Before entering a treatment program, a person must go through a detox phase.
Since detoxing can cause alcohol withdrawal— which can have potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, it’s important that medical supervision takes place when someone is ready to begin detoxing from alcohol.
It is clear that alcohol abuse can cause depression, and depression can cause alco-hol abuse. It’s imperative that a person find proper treatment to treat both condi-tions. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse and depression, please contact us today.
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