It might seem obvious to some (and surprising to others), but alcohol and depression are linked. We often hear that alcohol is a coping mechanism for those who are depressed or in a bad mood, but could it actually be causing the depression people are trying so hard to forget about? How else can a drug like alcohol be linked to a mental health condition like depression? Let’s take a look at some of the ways.
1. Depression could cause you to drink
In our society, it’s not uncommon to hear about people drowning their sorrows in a bottle of booze. Any major life stressor like a breakup, job loss, or anger of any kind, can trigger a desire to remove yourself from the moment. Alcohol is a good way to achieve this and possibly obtain some negative consequences along the way. An alcoholic drink once in a while isn’t a sign of a problem, but if you need a drink every time a problem arises this might be a sign of a substance use disorder. Close to 1/3 of people with depression also have an alcohol use disorder. Research shows that young people who have depression are more likely to have issues with alcohol later in life and teens with depression are twice as likely to start drinking as those who don’t.
2. Women are twice as likely to drink heavily if they have depression
Another surprising fact is that women who have depression are more than twice as likely to drink heavily. According to research, women are more likely than men to overdo it with alcohol when they’re depressed or feeling low. Women are also more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol than men, even after drinking smaller amounts. A woman’s body also processes alcohol more slowly than a man, therefore one drink for a woman has about twice the effect of one for a man. Women also have an accelerated course of alcohol dependence, which means they travel from their first drink to an alcohol-related problem, and then to the need for treatment, at a faster pace than men. Consuming alcohol is much riskier for women, especially if they have depression.
3. Drinking excessively can lead to depression
We know that many people tend to deal with their problems by drinking alcohol, but what about the reverse situation? Heavy drinking can cause depression too. Alcohol is a depressant. That means any amount you drink can cause you to feel down in the dumps. For me, I always felt depressed the day after drinking. While nursing my hangover, it wasn’t uncommon for me to cry and feel completely helpless about my life. It’s also common for people who drink to make impulsive decisions or put themselves in dangerous situations, which can also cause a case of the blues. Drinking excessively and facing these types of consequences on a regular basis can change your brain chemistry and eventually lead to depression, if you aren’t experiencing it already.
4. Drinking can make depression worse
If you’re already experiencing depression, drinking alcohol on a regular basis can make it worse. For people who are depressed, drinking heavily and frequently leads to more frequent and severe episodes of depression. These same people are more likely to have suicidal thoughts as well. If you’re taking antidepressant medication, alcohol can cause an interaction and make these meds work less effectively.
5. Alcohol use disorder and depression are co-occurring disorders
If you experience alcohol misuse and depression at the same time, it’s important to know that these are co-occurring disorders. This is when a person has a mental health condition as well as a substance use disorder. These can be difficult to diagnose since some symptoms overlap. In 2014, approximately 7.9 million adults in the U.S. had co-occurring disorders. People with mental health disorders are more likely than those who don’t to have an alcohol use disorder. Depression and alcohol use disorder both have biological, psychological, and social components. They need to be diagnosed and treated together. Treatment that takes care of both conditions works best.
Depression and alcohol are inherently intertwined. You can’t have one without the effects of the other. That’s why it’s important to combat the stereotype that you need alcohol as a coping mechanism. Alcohol might work temporarily to forget your problems, but it could cause many more problems. Treating your depression with alcohol could create more depression. It’s not worth it.
About the Author
Kelly Fitzgerald is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her personal blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web including sites like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Ravishly, SheKnows, Elite Daily, The Fix, Brit + Co, Addiction Unscripted and AfterPartyMagazine. She is currently writing a memoir.