Alcohol and Depression: A Cycle

Jordan Kadish
July 5, 2022

Are you someone who turns to alcohol to deal with your mental health issues? Maybe you drink to forget about a painful breakup or to relieve the stress of your job. Although alcohol may provide temporary relief, it can lead to a dangerous path of associating negative emotions with drinking.

In fact, studies have shown that those struggling with alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) are three times more likely to experience major depression. That’s a scary statistic, especially because alcohol and depression can make each other worse and create a vicious cycle. But why does alcohol have such a strong link to depression? Let’s explore this further.

Types of Depression:

Like many mental disorders, various types of depression have different causes. Here are the most common types of depression and how they can appear: 

Situational Depression: This type of depression does not count as disordered depression or sadness. Situational depression refers to the melancholic mood all people get into after a distressing event. The depressed mood you feel in situational depression is in direct response to an event and typically subsides over time. For example, it is typical for someone to feel depressed after the death of a family member or a divorce. Through the passage of time and/or support from loved ones, situational depression becomes manageable and eventually passes. 

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): People who suffer from major depressive disorder feel persistent depressive moods the majority of the time. Common symptoms are the loss of interest in what once was exciting, feeling sluggish and unmotivated, and trouble making decisions. People with MDD may also experience physical symptoms like weight loss/gain, lack of energy, and slowed body movements. 

Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): People with SAD feel the same symptoms of major depressive disorder, except only within particular seasons. For most people, symptoms of SAD flare up in the winter months. This is explainable by the wealth of research finding a strong association between shorter days/lack of sunlight and depression. 

Persistent Depressive Disorder: Previously called “dysthymia”, this disorder is classified as experiencing depression symptoms for two consecutive years. Although people with this disorder may have periods of major depression, their typical symptoms are usually less severe, although long-lasting. 

Postpartum Depression: Postpartum depression is the depression a person may experience after childbirth. This is not to be confused with “baby blues”, which have similar symptoms to postpartum depression, but only last for about a week after birth. Postpartum depression can start during pregnancy and last many months after giving birth. Symptoms like severe mood swings, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty bonding with the baby, and severe anxiety make this disorder extremely difficult to deal with while caring for a newborn. 

The Alcohol and Depression Cycle

For people experiencing clinical depression, especially if it is not diagnosed or not treated, numbing sadness through drinking alcohol can certainly be tempting. Feeling helpless and alone can make people self-medicate in an effort to get a break. Although self-medicating may work in the moment, it can create a vicious cycle of negative emotions and dependency. This is a cycle that over 30% of people with AUD are currently experiencing. 

Can alcohol use cause depression? Or can depression cause alcohol use?

The answer to both questions is “yes.” Research shows that people with depressive disorders often turn to alcohol as a way to cope with their symptoms. However, long-term alcohol use can lead to dependency and worsen depressive symptoms. Similarly, drinking can exacerbate depression symptoms because alcohol is a depressant that slows brain functioning and disrupts the balance of neurotransmitters responsible for managing emotions.

In fact, the connection between drinking and depression has become so significant that the DSM-V now includes a new subsection of depressive disorders called “Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder.” This disorder is characterized by a prominent and persistent disturbance in mood caused by the use of substances and/or medications.

An infographic showing the Alcohol and Depression cycle

Breaking The Cycle

Breaking the cycle of alcohol use and depression requires commitment and support. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Know your resources. There are a multitude of therapy options, specific programs, and treatment plans available that focus on clinical depression and alcohol addiction. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is designed to help you become aware of feelings that cause depression and a desire to use alcohol. It also helps teach coping skills that you can use to live a healthier lifestyle. Medication-assisted therapy may combine talk-therapy tactics with prescribed medications like naltrexone that help alleviate withdrawal and reduce the risk of relapse

Join a support group. Peer-support groups have been shown to have a positive impact on the treatment of alcoholism and depression. They offer access to new perspectives and skills you may not have thought of before, and can remind you that you are not alone in your journey to recovery.

Consider inpatient/outpatient recovery programs. These programs are available for both alcohol addiction and depression. They allow you to connect with others with similar experiences and provide professional support to help you throughout your recovery.

Make changes in your lifestyle. Smaller-scale lifestyle changes can make all the difference in improving your mental health. Exercise regularly to boost your mood, get a healthy amount of sleep to improve your overall well-being, develop stress-reducing and relaxation skills, and surround yourself with people who care and support your recovery.

Consider Eleanor Health!  We offer care and treatment that takes into account the whole individual, meaning that we focus on one’s life experiences, cultures, and values when offering assistance. With resources available in medication-assisted treatment, therapy & counseling, psychiatry, recovery coaching, and more, we are dedicated to helping you get to a place where you feel happy and healthy.

If you are seeking help with your loved one’s addiction, contact us today or complete our quick contact form below, to speak with an addiction treatment specialist.

If you need help with your substance use disorder, we are here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in LouisianaMassachusettsNew JerseyNorth CarolinaOhio, Texas, and Washington.

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Jordan Kadish

Jordan Kadish graduated Magna Cum Laude from The College of New Jersey with a B.A. in Psychology and a Minor in Gender Studies. Jordan is passionate about all things mental health & wellness and is thrilled to be able to help her community in any way possible.

Depression Addiction & recovery Blog Mental Health

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