Reviewed by Tanya Harrell, PhD, LPC, NCC
DRINKING AND DEPRESSION - IS THERE A CONNECTION?
It can become a vicious cycle; depression leads to drinking, and drinking leads to depression. Over and over again. Because alcohol is a depressant, you are more likely to feel depressed after drinking a few. Even if it makes you feel good initially, eventually, that feeling fades, and you end up feeling the blues again.
More than 17 million people in the United States have had a major depressive episode at least once. That is 7.2% of all the adults in America. And according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 14 million adults have an alcohol use disorder.
Some people drink to cope with their depression, not realizing they are making it worse. What’s more, distressing is that alcohol abuse may lead to depression, so it is a cycle that is difficult to break once it gets started. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that depression can start when trying to quit drinking. And depression leads to further drinking, which leads to more depression.
Signs And Different Types Of Depression
It is important to know the signs of depression before you go on reading. The difficult thing is that there is more than one kind of depression, so the signs can vary. Let’s look at the symptoms separated by a few of the most common types of depression to make it easier.
Clinical (Major) Depression
This is also known as major depressive disorder or unipolar. It is known for causing a constant feeling of sadness or lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities. To meet clinical depression criteria, you have to have five or more of the following symptoms most days for more than two weeks.
- Increased exhaustion or lethargy
- Weight gain or loss
- Sleeping more often
- Avoiding others
- Negative thoughts
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Agitation or restlessness
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Being irritable
- Actively lashing out at family or friends
- Avoiding loved ones
- Losing interest in usual activities you typically enjoy
- Thoughts of death and/or suicide
Dysthymia Or Persistent Depressive Disorder
This kind of depression is a bit milder than a major depressive disorder, but it lasts for more than two years. Those with persistent depressive disorder can usually function daily but still have trouble with relationships, jobs, and other tasks. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Hopelessness or sadness
- Lack of self-esteem
- Losing interest in usual activities
- Changes in sleep
- Chronic fatigue
- Memory trouble
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Avoiding others
- Eating less or more than usual
- Just not able to enjoy things anymore
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Also referred to as SAD, this is similar to clinical depression but only happens during a few months of the year, usually during the winter. Many experts believe that it is due to the lack of sunlight during that time of year.
Also known as perinatal depression, this condition only affects women who have recently had a baby. The feelings of inadequacy or hopelessness may be caused by the hormonal changes in the body after birth. It can also be brought on by lack of sleep and increased stress. Signs of postpartum depression include:
- Extreme exhaustion
- Periods of rage or unreasonable anger
- Chronic anxiety
- Sadness for no apparent reason
- Thoughts of not being a good parent
- Unreasonable worrying about your baby’s health
- Trouble taking care of yourself and the baby
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Also known as manic depression, this is a complicated and severe form of depression combined with periods of mania. There are a few different kinds of bipolar disorder, but they typically all have the same symptoms of extreme depression alternating with manic activity. The depressive episodes include:
- Staying in bed for days
- Lack of energy
- Extreme long-term fatigue
- Feeling sad
- Feeling empty or hopeless
- Trouble concentrating and making decisions
- Losing interest in usual activities you previously enjoyed
- Attempting suicide or suicidal ideation
Manic episodes include:
- Feeling high or extremely happy
- High periods of energy
- Not sleeping
- Racing thoughts
- Talking fast
- Thinking you are indestructible
- Self-destructive or risky behavior
- Unrealistic feelings of superiority
- Being more irritable than usual
Why Turn To Alcohol?
Those with depression often use alcohol or drugs to deal with the feelings that overwhelm them. It is a form of self-medication that people with depression turn to rather than seeking help from a professional. Drinking can make them feel better for a short time and eventually make things worse since alcohol is a depressant.
How Drinking Can Make Things Worse
Another problem with drinking alcohol while you have depression is the trouble that alcohol use can create in your life. For example, drinking can lead to risky behavior, lack of good judgement, and legal problems like driving while intoxicated. In addition, drinking often increases instances of accidents, violence, and using illicit drugs.
Those who drink to an extreme can also end up with financial difficulties. For example, drinking too much may cause you to miss too much work and lose your job. Or you may have to spend a large amount of money to get out of trouble with the law.
Losing your job or spending all your money can also bring on other troubles, such as with your relationship. Having depression can put a lot of pressure on a relationship on its own, but the relationship may not survive when it is combined with alcohol abuse and money troubles.
When you first take a drink, alcohol can make you feel relaxed and more easygoing. You may feel like your troubles are not a big deal anymore. The effects of alcohol will eventually create a feeling of euphoria, and you may want to drink more to continue that good feeling.
In the short term, alcohol can cause accidental injuries or even cause alcohol poisoning if you drink too much. You may do things that are unsafe or take medication or drugs that can harm your health. In the long term, alcohol can cause more health issues. Some of the ways your health can be affected include:
- High blood pressure
- Brain damage
- Irregular heartbeat
- Fatty liver disease
- Immune system disorders
- Several different kinds of cancer, including colorectal, breast, liver, and esophageal
How To Know You Are Drinking Too Much
Excessive drinking is defined as having more than one drink a day for women and two for men. The easiest way to find out if you are drinking too much is to keep track of how much alcohol you are drinking. Some of the warning signs that you are drinking too much include:
- Using alcohol often to deal with depression, anxiety, or anger
- Regularly using alcohol to feel more confident.
- Having hangovers often
- Your drinking is affecting your relationships.
- You feel bad after drinking too much.
- You lie about the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Hiding your alcohol from others
- Others tell you that you act stupid, angry, or sad when you drink.
- You feel like you have to drink to feel good.
- Drinking takes over your activities.
- People stop coming around you because of your drinking.
Are You Dependent On Alcohol?
For someone with depression, any amount of alcohol is too much. However, those who do not have depression can also drink too much and become dependent. Here are some signs that you are becoming dependent on alcohol:
- You may start waking up feeling nervous or having shaky hands.
- You start drinking earlier every day.
- You need to drink more often to feel the same effect.
- Rather than wanting to have a drink, you start to feel you need to have a drink.
- You start missing work more often.
- Relationships will start being negatively affected.
- You continue to drink even though it is causing problems.
- You may start neglecting other parts of your life.
What You Can Do If You Think You Are Drinking Too Much
There are many other things you can do besides drink. But if you are addicted, you will likely need help to stop drinking. There may be serious alcohol withdrawal problems if you have been drinking heavily for a long time. In fact, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include severe anxiety, headaches, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, and even seizures.
If you have been drinking for a long time, talk to someone about your depression and drinking before trying to stop. It may help if you take antidepressants or some other medication that can help you quit drinking easier. The effects of antidepressants can increase the serotonin and endorphins in your brain to increase your happiness without alcohol.
In many cases, you can stop drinking just by getting treated for depression. The first thing to do is to ask for help. If you do not know where to go for help, you can find thousands of mental health experts who specialize in depression that are also experienced in alcohol dependency.
TALK TO SOMEONE WHO CAN HELP
If you are still unsure if you have depression, you can take a depression test online to find out. And if you are not ready to talk to someone face to face, you can contact a therapist or counselor online who can help you. Most are available 24/7, and you do not even need an appointment. In fact, you do not even have to leave your bed.