For those battling depression, alcohol often appears as a tempting means to drown out the weight of negative emotions and thoughts. While it may provide momentary respite and a temporary escape from reality, the repercussions of relying on alcohol as a coping mechanism for depression can be severe.
Let’s delve into the complex relationship between depression and alcoholism by exploring the reasons why individuals with depression might turn to alcohol, the short-term relief it can offer, the long-term consequences it brings, and the help treatment can provide.
The Link Between Alcoholism and Depression
- Alcoholism and depression frequently co-occur (exist at the same time).
- Alcoholism increases the risk of depression.
- Depression increases the risk of alcoholism.
- Alcoholism can make depression worse.
- Depression can make alcoholism worse.
While people with depression may attempt to alleviate their symptoms with alcohol, self-medication is dangerous over the long term, as it can lead to alcohol use disorder and a higher risk of suicidal behavior.
In fact, though people with depression may drink to feel better, alcohol can have the opposite effect. And it doesn’t take a lot of alcohol to exacerbate depression—even mild drinking can make symptoms worse and decrease the effectiveness of antidepressants.
The Alcohol Trap
It’s not surprising that people with depression might turn to alcohol for relief. In the short term, alcohol can quell anxiety, offer a sense of well-being, and lower inhibitions by slowing down processes in the brain and central nervous system. People might drink in an attempt to soothe irritability, calm restlessness, and fall asleep at night.
But over time, the body can become dependent on the feel-good chemicals released by alcohol. You may feel as if drinking is the only way to feel happy and satisfied—except the high is short-lived, and you find that you have to drink more to experience the same effects. As you develop a greater tolerance for alcohol, your consumption increases—so what started as occasional drinking turns into alcohol dependence.
The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
Here’s something counterintuitive: Alcohol is a depressant. So while drinking may seem like a solution to depression, it can actually become part of the problem.
Alcohol alters the balance of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Serotonin affects mood regulation, and dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system. Very high or very low levels of these neurotransmitters can trigger symptoms of depression—which is exactly what you were trying to avoid in the first place.
The Effects of Alcohol on the Body
Alcohol can also have significant negative effects on your physical well-being. In the short term, excessive drinking can lead to:
- Upset stomach
- Sleep problems
- Reckless or aggressive behavior
- Alcohol poisoning
And over the long term, alcohol misuse increases the risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
Alcohol abuse can also lead to problems with relationships, employment, housing, and finances—which then negatively impacts your mental health.
Treatment for Depression and Alcoholism
Here’s the good news: Treating alcoholism and depression simultaneously in dual diagnosis rehab is a safe and effective way to improve outcomes for both disorders. Treatment typically includes:
- Detox: This allows you to withdraw from alcohol safely.
- Medication: This may include antidepressants as well as a medication like naltrexone to help you stop drinking and reduce symptoms of depression.
- Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, can help you replace negative thoughts with positive ones to support your recovery.
- Support: A group like SMART Recovery or Alcoholics Anonymous can provide accountability and connection to help you stay committed to your treatment and recovery goals.
The bond between alcoholism and depression is strong, but you don’t have to remain captive to these disorders. With help from dual diagnosis rehab, you can break free from the chains of addiction and depression and live a healthy, sober life.
Are you ready to regain control of your life? Call Beachside Rehab at 866-349-1770 to speak with our trained admissions counselors. With treatment options for both alcoholism and depression, we can help you get started on the road to recovery.