Alcohol consumption throughout the world is pretty common, especially in American society. In some parts of American culture, binge drinking and excessive drinking is encouraged. For example, in college, fraternity brothers take blacking out as a badge of honor, laughing the next day about the dangerous activities they participated in while drinking. However, drinking is no laughing matter. While some can drink and have no problems, others may develop alcohol use disorder (AUD).
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 25.1 percent of adults over the age of 18 had at least one heavy drinking day in the past year, which is five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women. Alcohol also caused 23,172 liver disease deaths. While alcohol is clearly dangerous to our body, there are other areas that we don’t discuss.
Many people who struggle with depression will turn to alcohol and self-medicate. While it may work in the short-term, alcohol is a depressant, and it can cause adverse effects. Not only can they develop an alcohol use disorder, but it can cause their depression to spiral downward. Some of the most common symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:
- Excessive time spent drinking
- Continued cravings for alcohol
- Drinking too much too often
- Drinking for longer than the individual anticipated
- Continued drinking despite adverse effects to relationships
- Continued drinking despite it causing worsening depression
The connection between depression and alcohol consumption is undeniable, but stopping isn’t always that easy.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mental illness that has the potential to be severe. It’s characterized by a persistent sense of sorrow in a person, and it may lead to injury or other diseases. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that major depressive disorder (MDD) causes $210.5 billion in economic burden each year. The figure includes workplace costs, direct costs, and suicide-related causes.
Depression might affect every aspect of a person’s life and those around them, leading to issues with family and friends, as well as difficulty in their place of work. It also increases the chances of other diseases and places a person at risk of suicide. Depression can also result in lower incomes due to workplace absence. When a person is battling depression, getting out of bed is challenging, causing them to miss work. High-risk behavior is also seen more in those battling depression. Issues like substance abuse, smoking, and eating disorders are prevalent as well.
A person may be diagnosed with depression if they exhibit the following symptoms for at least two weeks:
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of interest in activities they once found joy
- Unusual sleep patterns
- Suicidal thoughts
- Concentration issues
- Feeling worthless
Depression is common, and it affects nearly one in 15 people. Although it can occur at any point in a person’s life, it’s most commonly seen during an individual’s late-teens to mid-20s. Women are at a much higher risk than men to develop the condition, and it’s estimated that one-third of women will experience a significant episode at one point in their life.
Depression can stem from various factors. While some people are genetically prone to the condition, personality, such as low self-esteem, can also play a role. Someone with a family history of depression increases their odds they will experience it too.
Environmental factors, especially early in life, can play a significant role in developing the disorder. While all of these can increase the odds of getting depression, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will.
How Alcohol Abuse Factors into Depression
As was mentioned above, many people will consume alcohol to cope with depression. Unfortunately, despite the initial relief, it’ll worsen in the long-term. Abusing alcohol brings a host of adverse effects in every aspect of life.
When a person is experiencing career and financial consequences because of drinking, it’ll lead to a deterioration of relationships, causing their depression to worsen. It leads to an unhealthy cycle of abusing alcohol to self-medicate, and worsening depression because of prolonged alcohol abuse.
When someone abuses alcohol consistently, physical dependence and addiction will soon follow. An estimated two-thirds of those struggling with major depression have a co-occurring alcohol use disorder. Understandably, someone with depression, which can often be crippling, will turn to drinking as a solution to cope. However, it only makes it worse in the long-run.
Some individuals have overlapping genetic predispositions making them increasingly vulnerable to depression and alcohol issues. The onset of one condition may trigger the other. Hangovers after excessive drinking can lead to feelings of depression, and continued abuse will lead to longer periods of depression.
Someone diagnosed with depression and who uses antidepressants to manage the disorder can experience adverse side effects because of alcohol. Alcohol will make the antidepressant less effective, and the depressant effects of alcohol will worsen the depression.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Depression
Treating depression will involve an antidepressant medication. Since depression is linked to low serotonin, medication like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) will be prescribed by a doctor to balance it out and stabilize mood. Antidepressants aren’t considered addictive, and it’s highly unlikely that someone will abuse them. It’s helpful when treating a person struggling with an alcohol addiction because someone with a substance use disorder is more likely to abuse their medication.
Some of the initial effects of antidepressants will be experienced quickly, typically within a week or two, but the full effects may take months to notice. Most doctors will instruct their patients to continue using the drugs for months even after the symptoms subside. If someone uses antidepressants for a few weeks, it’s hard to determine if they’re useful.
Using antidepressants shouldn’t serve as a cure, and it should be taken in conjunction with therapy to address any underlying conditions, as well as lifestyle changes. Talk therapy will help the individual develop better habits. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is another effective form of psychotherapy involving problem-solving by modifying dysfunction in behavior and thoughts.
CBT is also useful in treating alcohol use disorders, making it an excellent tool for someone struggling with both addiction and depression. CBT is used to prevent relapse in someone with alcohol problems, and it teaches the individual skills that will help them with their problematic behavior. It offers coping skills and how to explore the consequences relating to addiction. The strategy will anticipate problems before they occur and help them react when an issue does arise. It’s beneficial for long-term recovery.
Depression is a tough path to navigate, and if you’ve turned to alcohol for help, you could be causing more damage. Reaching out for help is the first and often most challenging step on the path toward recovery.