Alcohol and Depression

What Is Depression

Depression is defined as a prolonged period of feeling sad, lonely, hopeless, lost, worthless, devoid of energy, apathetic, and even suicidal. There are many forms of depression. Almost everyone goes through at least a few periods of depression during their life. However, for some individuals, the problem is much more severe and protracted. While the causes of depression are not clearly understood, they include a number of genetic, environmental, and personal factors. Depression can severely impact a person’s personal and professional life, and potentially even lead to suicide.

There are several types of depression, including:

  • Major Depressive Disorder – Sufferers experience very severe depression symptoms that interfere with their ability to function. Some individuals have only one episode, but most have several throughout their lives.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder – A depressed mood that lasts for two or more years. In some cases, this can be a lifelong condition.
  • Psychotic Depression – Sufferers experience both severe depression and some form of psychosis, including audio and visual hallucinations or having false beliefs or delusions.
  • Postpartum Depression – This form of depression is caused by the hormonal and physical changes associated with pregnancy and giving birth as well as the new responsibilities of caring for a newborn. Between 10 and 15 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder – Depression symptoms begin during the late fall and winter months, as the amount of daily sunlight decreases. In many cases, light therapy is helpful for treating this condition.
  • Bipolar Disorder – No longer generally considered a form of depression, sufferers of this group of closely related mental conditions alternate between periods of depression and mania, a state of heightened and exaggerated moods. Also known as manic depression and bipolar depression, bipolar disorder is more often than not misdiagnosed as depression as most sufferers initially seek treatment for being depressed and do not understand or report the typically less frequent manic episodes.

The Relationship Between Alcohol And Depression

Alcohol abuse and depression are very closely correlated. Many depression sufferers, especially ones who have not been properly diagnosed, often turn to alcohol to escape. Desperate to feel better or numb the pain, even for a little while, depression sufferers often use the pleasurable effects of alcohol for that purpose. Alcohol abuse is rampant among sufferers of depression. At least 30%-40% of alcoholics also experience a depressive disorder.

Unfortunately, alcohol ends up having the opposite effect. Alcohol is a depressant that slows the body down. Studies have consistently shown that alcohol use increases both the duration and the severity of depressive episodes. It also increases the likelihood, frequency, and severity of suicidal thoughts. Alcohol can also cause other stressors in life such as career and family problems that worsen depression. If the depressed person than turns to alcohol to make themselves feel better, a vicious cycle has started that can be extremely difficult to break out of.

Alcoholism can also cause depression in some circumstances. Prolonged alcohol abuse can drastically change and rewire the brain, as well as impact many other chemical balances in the body. This is particularly true of the brain’s neurotransmitters, which send electric and chemical impulses and control a great deal of the body and mind’s functioning. These systemic changes can cause depression.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed or important activities
  • Sadness or feeling down
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of energy and tiredness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble with concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Anger and irritability
  • Decreased activity and productivity
  • Change in appetite leading to weight loss or gain
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Suicidal thoughts