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Alcohol and Depression

You didn’t ask for it to be this way. You were brought into a family that was, unfortunately, dysfunctional. Your father was always yelling and abusing your mom, your sister, and yourself. He was never without a drink in hand, and he made sure to impose just enough fear to keep your mother from leaving. When you were old enough, you left home trying your best to get your mother to come with you and your sister, but she wouldn’t leave him.

alcohol and depression

With the difficult upbringing, you found your self-esteem low. It was hard to navigate your feelings, and you often turned to alcohol to help keep you numb to the pain. Your sister was the same, just trying to stay afloat to make it through life. Alcohol worked for a while, but soon, you found yourself even more depressed, afraid you were turning into your father. You had so many feelings and emotions that you didn’t know how to express, a deep sadness had washed over your soul. Alcohol made people feel good, so why was it making you feel lousy more and more?

In 2019, over 13% of teens aged 12-17 reported having a major depressive episode in Florida. In the same age group, 1.3% reported having alcohol dependence. Clean Recovery Centers provides educational resources to teens and adults wanting to learn more about alcohol and substance use disorders. Our dedicated team can diagnose and treat mental health conditions at any phase during treatment alongside providing quality substance use disorder treatment. Today, we are looking into the correlation between alcohol and depression, and how each can feed into the other.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions affecting the United States. It is characterized by losing interest in activities, pleasure, and relationships that last for a long period of time. While it is normal to experience mood swings and days where we do not want to get out of bed, depression is diagnosed if you experience symptoms all day, for most days. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of low self-worth
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches or unexplained aches and pains
  • Feelings of hopelessness

How Does Alcohol Factor Into Depression?

Alcohol is a depressant and interferes with certain areas of the brain. At first, alcohol can seem to make you feel better as it lowers inhibitions. This gives off the relaxed, confident feelings associated with alcohol. However, these feelings do not last long and will wear off both as drinking continues and is stopped.

Alcohol and Brain Chemistry

The brain functions on chemical communication and transportation, a delicate system that each one of us has. Alcohol causes disruptions in this system, leading to changes in chemical levels. These changes can make it difficult for the brain to navigate emotions and feelings. Depression, aggression, and anxiety can result, and situations you would normally perceive clearly become foggy. You may react in ways that are not how you would if you were not drinking.

In those who already have depression, neurotransmitters in the brain are already lacking. Neurotransmitters help with the transport of chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, which provide feelings of joy and pleasure. Prolonged alcohol use also reduces neurotransmitters within the brain, increasing depressive episodes.

Alcohol’s Effects on Emotions

link between alcohol use and depressionChemical imbalances from alcohol use can affect emotions within the brain, but what does that mean is happening on the outside? As alcohol lowers inhibitions, situational awareness and reactions will change. For some, aggression will present more while drinking. An accidental bump in a crowd or a foot being stepped on becomes an intentional act, causing the person to respond with anger.

Besides anger, the person may feel their emotions deeper than if they were not drinking. Experiencing sadness – from a recent break-up, loss of a loved one, job loss, and unwanted change for example – will feel overwhelmingly sad, to the point of depression. Trying to cope with these feelings while drinking will often make them feel just as strong when drinking has stopped. This cycle of drinking to manage depression will have a negative impact on emotional health.

Is Sleep Affected by Alcohol?

Alcohol does change sleep patterns and reduces the amount of quality sleep the person gets. Heavy alcohol consumption has a sedation effect and increases rapid eye movement (REM) sleep at first. However, this only lasts for a couple of hours, and soon after, periods of waking will happen often. This makes it difficult to fall back to sleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep plays a large role in mental health, and not getting enough sleep can cause an increase in depressive episodes. Sleep disturbances can continue after drinking has stopped, as the person goes through alcohol withdrawal.

Using Alcohol to Cope with Depression

It may seem like a good idea to use alcohol to cope with depression as drinking can help you feel relaxed and carefree. Over time, however, as it takes more and more alcohol to feel “better,” alcohol dependence will increase depression symptoms. While alcohol can cause depression, trying to self-medicate depression with alcohol will lead to worsening episodes rather than helping the condition.

Alcohol-Induced Depression: How Long Does It Last?

Alcohol-induced depression does not last forever, and stopping drinking can help alleviate the condition. However, those managing an alcohol use disorder may continue to experience depression symptoms for weeks to months after drinking has stopped. This is typical in those who did not have depression before drinking began.

In those who already have depression, especially untreated, alcohol can cause a worsening of symptoms for months or years after drinking has stopped. This is why it is imperative to seek mental health treatment to properly manage your depression so symptoms do not get unbearably worse.

Can Depression Worsen After Quitting Drinking?

Depression can actually get worse after quitting drinking. Alcohol withdrawal is a period where the body has become used to having alcohol in the system and then it is taken away suddenly. During this time, uncomfortable physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, shakiness, restlessness, and increased sweating occur as a signal that the body needs alcohol. This causes feelings of guilt, shame, depression, and anxiety as the person manages the physical symptoms while grappling with the idea they are dependent on alcohol. The good news is that alcohol withdrawal does not last forever. However, the symptoms of withdrawal can become dangerous, which is why it is best to seek a medical detox.

Withdrawal does cause depression to worsen, but even after the body is completely detoxed, depression can still be a concern. Mental health treatment will help you find the causes of your depression and give you knowledge of healthy coping skills and management of the condition. In some cases, antidepressants may be utilized to also treat the symptoms of depression.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder and Depression in Hillsborough County, FL

It does not matter if you are drinking because you are depressed or if depression started after drinking, help is available for both conditions. Mental health conditions and alcohol use disorder are seen hand-in-hand, but only treating one condition will not solve the overall concern. The recovery process will begin with an alcohol detox, followed by therapies, learning coping mechanisms, and skill-building classes to help you navigate everyday life without alcohol. Therapies will address both the root causes of depression and alcohol use disorder simultaneously, and you will be able to understand the link between them and why they affect you. It is possible to find successful recovery from both depression and alcohol use disorder, and it all starts with taking the first step into treatment today.

If you or someone you love is managing an alcohol use disorder and depression, help is available right now. Clean Recovery Centers offers a full-spectrum program that treats both conditions simultaneously. Each of our locations throughout the Suncoast offers housing that has been certified by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR) so you will never have to worry about having a place to stay. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn more about our program offerings.

Get clean. Live clean. Stay clean.

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