Alcohol and depression - what is the connection?
If you feel that you may be depressed and drinking too much, or are worried that someone close to you is depressed and misusing alcohol, it is crucial to seek help.
What is the connection between depression and alcohol?
The relationship between depression and alcohol commonly works in one of the following ways:
1) You regularly drink too much which makes you feel depressed
When you start drinking, you may feel relaxed, more confident and less anxious. This is because alcohol disrupts the balance of chemicals in the brain and depresses the part associated with inhibitions.
The more you drink, the more your brain will be affected. As alcohol is a depressant that depletes levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin over time, it is possible that negative emotions will take over, regardless of how you felt when you started drinking, where your thoughts, feelings, actions and sometimes your mental health become affected.
Excessive or binge drinking can also lead people to make unwise decisions as heavy alcohol consumption impairs judgement. This can have serious consequences, such as drink driving, which can result in you feeling more worried and depressed. The hangovers caused by alcohol dependency or heavy binge drinking can then create a cycle of waking up feeling ill, agitated, jittery and guilty, making life miserable.
Alcohol and depression can feed off one another. Regularly drinking can affect your performance at work and relationships at home, which can make life harder to deal with. This can then cause you to reach for alcohol in order to cope with the impact it has had.
There is also a relationship between heavy drinking and an increased risk of self-harm and suicide, as disinhibition and impaired judgement through alcohol can lead to feelings of hopelessness and impulsive, risk-taking behaviours.
2) You drink to relieve your symptoms of depression
You may reach for alcohol to improve your mood, cope with anxiety or suppress any symptoms of depression or perhaps to block out or cope with painful life experiences. Unfortunately, when used over a long period of time, alcohol can actually contribute to you feeling depressed.
Getting help for depression and alcohol
Dr Jason Taylor, a consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford, urges people who have problems with alcohol and depression not to ignore the issue but to try to face up to their difficulties and seek help early on if possible.
Many people face substantial pressures in their day to day lives and it is easy to resort to alcohol as a mechanism to cope, but over time this can create dependency, health problems and mental health issues.
Professional help in the form of individual therapy and medication can make a substantial difference whatever the root causes of the problem. Others may find benefit in being able to share their experiences and gain mutual support through engaging with others in therapeutic groups.