Many people choose to unwind after a stressful day with a can of beer or a glass of wine. Their weekends might involve wild nights of partying, immediately followed by hangovers (complete with headache, nausea, and low mood). For alcoholics, their substance use may occur alongside lasting depression. Today on the blog, we’ll finally answer the age-old question: Does alcohol make you depressed?
How Alcohol Affects the Body
First, it’s important to understand alcohol’s method of action within the body. Once a person takes a drink, it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to the brain. Effects can be felt in just five to ten minutes. Alcohol impairs a person’s ability to think, move with coordination, and make decisions. It also impacts their mood.
This last portion is what we want to focus on. Alcohol is a CNS depressant – this means that it slows the actions of a person’s central nervous system. These effects are obvious when an individual exhibits signs like slurred speech, stumbling, and passing out. It also means that they may experience negative mood changes as a result of drinking. This can either magnify existing depressive symptoms or lead to a new diagnosis: substance-induced depression.
Statistics About Drinking and Depression
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) offers several troubling statistics about alcoholism and depression. First, they cite the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). According to this research, nearly 86% of Americans over the age of 18 reported that they had drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. Of these, 25.8% percent of people surveyed reported that they had engaged in binge drinking within the past month, and 6.3% admitted to heavy alcohol use during the same time. This provides us with an overall perspective on alcohol consumption in the United States.
In that same survey, a trend emerged: high-intensity drinking. Scientists define this practice as “consuming alcohol at levels that are two or more times the gender-specific binge drinking thresholds.” Those who drank at this level were 70 times more likely to experience an alcohol-related emergency. Individuals who reached three times the gender-specific binge drinking thresholds were 93 times more likely to have an emergency related to alcohol.
These numbers correlate with depression statistics in America. An article from the Psychiatric Times points out that the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions indicates a high prevalence of comorbid depression and alcohol use disorder. Of the 43,093 adults surveyed, over 20% of those with a current alcohol dependence reported a comorbid depressive disorder. Those with an alcohol use disorder were 3.7 times more likely to be depressed than those who did not have a substance use disorder.
Does Alcohol Make You Depressed?
Research published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that the relationship between alcohol addiction and major depressive disorder may be causal or correlational – the jury is out.
Potential explanations for this link include:
Alcoholism and depression may be tied to similar underlying genetic and environmental influences. Research shows that individuals who are genetically predisposed to alcohol use disorder may also have a similar vulnerability to mental illnesses, including depression.
Alcohol use disorder may arise as an attempted method of self-medication for those dealing with depression. If someone is feeling depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, they may try to lessen their symptoms through drinking. What starts as an occasional drink can turn into several as one’s tolerance grows.
Alcoholism may increase a person’s risk of depressive symptoms. Heavy, regular drinking is linked to symptoms of depression. Because alcohol affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, it can impact one’s ability to regulate emotions.
Healing a Dual Diagnosis
Knowing that these diagnoses are interconnected can help us to make decisions about treatment. Providers understand that identifying the cause of each condition is important for one’s plan of care. For example, if a person’s depressive symptoms can be attributed to heavy alcohol use, antidepressants may not have a significant effect for them.
Criteria for an independent mood disorder (one not caused by substances) include:
- Low mood preceding alcohol use
- Mood disturbances persisting following prolonged abstinence
- Depressive symptoms more severe than those typically seen considering one’s substance use
If a person exhibits these signs, it is likely that their disorder is worsened by their alcoholism, but not caused by it.
Since it is difficult to separate substance-induced depression from a typical mood disorder, it is first necessary for patients to discontinue their alcohol use. At Lakeside-Milam, we provide proven dual diagnosis treatment for those who want to overcome depression and problem drinking. Our staff members understand recovery because we’ve been there ourselves. Since our facility first opened its doors, we’ve helped more than 100,000 people to find recovery.
Contact us today to learn more about our treatment plans for addiction and mental illness.