We all have had bad days, when we feel sad, lonely, tired and unmotivated. When those feelings span several days, weeks, months or longer, it’s likely a sign of depression.
Depression can trigger people to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, which can lead to dependence and ultimately to addiction to these substances. Conversely, one of the side effects of alcohol abuse is depression, and because alcoholism is a depressant, it can worsen your depression.
The subject of substance abuse and addiction is a chicken-and-egg debate with no single right answer. Both feed off the other — in some cases substance abuse shows up first while in others you see addiction first — and both have similar side effects. Both addiction and depression can lead to:
- Irritability and difficulty focusing
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Relationship difficulties
- Isolation, loneliness and sadness
- Job loss or work-related problems
- Legal and financial problems
- Giving up things you enjoy
- Avoidance of daily routine self-care
- Other mental and physical maladies
Does Alcohol Cause Depression?
The more a person drinks, the more they are likely to become depressed. Likewise, the more depressed a person is, the more likely they will drink or use drugs. Together, depression and alcohol make a person at higher risk for suicide and a host of other disorders.
The question about alcohol causing depression isn’t simple to answer. There is a link between drinking and depression, and one can cause or trigger the other.
A group of researchers reviewed several studies that examined the link between alcoholism and depression, and they found:
- People who struggle with alcoholism are more likely to also suffer from depression.
- People with depression who detox from alcohol tend to have more cravings once they’ve gone through the detox process.
- Addiction treatment should include screening for depression, so clinicians can prescribe treatment to address both during the detox and rehabilitation processes.
This video from AsapSCIENCE explains how alcohol affects the brain.
Our brains are operated by two types of neurons: glutamate and GABA, which have contrasting roles. Glutamate is responsible for excitation, and GABA is responsible for inhibition (inhibition of neurons, that is, not social inhibition). Alcohol suppresses glutamate and enhances GABA. That slows down information flow in your brain, which means you feel less, perceive less, notice less and remember less.
So, not only does alcohol mess with your brain’s chemistry and contribute to depression, but because it impairs your judgment, alcohol can lead you to do and say things that you later regret, which also feeds into depression and alcohol induced mental disorders.
And then there’s withdrawal and the rollercoaster of emotions and chemical imbalances that come from suddenly stopping drinking…
Alcohol Withdrawal and Depression
The more you drink and the longer your history with drinking, the more your brain has adjusted to accommodate the change in chemistry that comes with alcohol. Some experts liken quitting alcohol cold turkey to a speeding vehicle that has lost its brakes. You cut off your system from a chemical it’s grown accustomed to, and it doesn’t know how to slow down.
How long does it take to get through alcohol withdrawal and depression? The duration of depression from alcohol withdrawal depends on a number of factors including how long you drink, how much you drink, your overall health, and your family history. It can last a few weeks to months or longer, but the important thing to remember is this: Depression from alcohol withdrawal doesn’t last forever. If you follow your program and surround yourself with support, every day will get better.
That’s why we recommend against detoxing from alcohol and drugs at home on your own. A medication assisted detoxification under the care of a medical staff is safe, and it can decrease your withdrawal symptoms, as well as your risks for relapse.
What is Dual Diagnosis?
Someone who has both a substance use disorder (such as addiction) and a mental health disorder (such as depression) has something called “dual diagnosis.” When you seek treatment for addiction, it’s important to identify dual diagnosis, which is also sometimes called comorbidity.
Treating one without treating the other doesn’t work, and you’re more likely to relapse. The best treatment plan for depression and alcohol abuse involves your health care team collaborating with your mental health care providers.
Treating Alcoholism and Depression
Your doctor or addiction recovery team will give you an initial evaluation that will include a physical exam and a series of questions to help them understand your mental state as well as your family history. If some of the questions seem repetitive, extremely personal or even disturbing, it’s because your medical team is seeking to do two things. First, they want to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may contribute to your depression and substance use. Second, they want to ensure you aren’t going to harm yourself or anyone else.
Remember, they aren’t there to judge you. They want to learn about your history so they can prescribe a plan of treatment that fits you. If you would like to continue the conversation about this topic, talk to one of our addiction specialists at (714) 547-5375. They are standing by to take calls 24 hours a day, every day of the week including weekends and holidays. Many of them have been through the withdrawal process themselves or with loved ones.