Alcoholism and depression are two things that are often spoken about together, linked in many stories of addiction and seem to go hand in hand. Most are unsure whether the alcohol led to the depression, or the depression led to the over-consumption of alcohol. None that have experienced both and claim to be sober, however, have ever declared that alcohol had improved their depression or fixed the problem.
Alcohol is a depressant. It alters the balance of complex chemicals in the brain. From the moment you take the first sip of a drink, the alcohol begins to affect the part of the brain – the frontal lobe – that controls inhibition. That can be why having an alcoholic drink makes you feel confident and more relaxed than usual. This can be harmless if you have just a few units of alcohol, but as you drink more, the chemical reaction changes. Once the brain starts to experience high levels of alcohol, the pleasant feelings and effects may be replaced by negative and adverse emotions. These can be anxiety, depression and even anger – this can happen even if you were in a bright mood before you had an alcoholic drink.
Drinking and depression is a vicious cycle
Scientific research shows us that regular alcohol consumption lowers the levels of serotonin in your body. This is the chemical in the brain that helps to regulate mood and feelings. If the body is subjected to regular alcohol levels, the brain cannot regulate and the levels of serotonin will not be able to replenish – leading to depression.
Alcohol and depression often go hand in hand. Some feel that one can help the other. If regular alcohol has affected your mood, relationships with family and friends and your job, it can feel overwhelming and at times difficult to handle. Some feel that having a few drinks – feeling the inhibitions being lifted – will help, yet that can turn to heavy drinking, spiralling out of control and leaves you feeling depressed.
When that person starts to feel depressed, they often reach a point that they will do anything to remove that feeling – to take the pain away. When that person reaches this point, alcohol can sometimes feel like the easiest tool to escape from all these negative feelings. The cycle of depression and alcoholism can happen all too quickly, and can be a very difficult cycle to break away from. But there is a way out. With the correct alcohol recovery treatment (some call it focusing on ‘dual diagnoses’, or two problems) it really can be possible to become sober and to also treat depression at the same time.
So what does come first – alcohol or depression?
We know they go hand in hand, but like the chicken and the egg syndrome, did alcohol cause the depression or did depression cause the addiction to alcohol? There is an argument for both to be true…
Alcohol leading to depression
As stated before, our brains are complex. They rely on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes every day. Alcohol is a depressant, and is a chemical that can disrupt and change that delicate balance. This can affect thoughts, feelings, actions, and relationships – and can be a long-term change, causing mental health issues.
Neurotransmitters occur in the brain, kind of ‘chemical messengers’ that transmit signals across the brain, from one neuron (nerve cell) to another neuron, muscle gland or gland cell.
Alcohol can affect these neurotransmitters, by obstructing and changing the chemical messages. Some will feel pleasure, confidence and less anxious through alcohol; but when more and more alcohol is consumed these chemical imbalances can turn to aggression, anxiety and depression.
Web MD states:
‘Drinking will only make depression worse. People who are depressed and drink too much have more frequent and severe episodes of depression, and are more likely to think about suicide. Heavy alcohol use can also make antidepressants less effective.’
Can depression lead to alcoholism?
We all have bad days. Whether problems at work, home or relationships, everyone has experienced times that they feel low – and can usually find an outlet that makes us happy. A good book, a film, friends, dancing and even a good meal. But for those that suffer from depression, it isn’t that easy to eradicate the low feelings. Clinical depression is a mental health issue that has to be treated properly.
However, many feel unable to get help – or ask for help – and reach for the solution that gives the quickest ‘fix’ to make them feel happier and back in control.
For some depressed people, alcohol is an easy way to lift their spirits, to feel that uninhibited state and to numb their negative thoughts. The more they reach for alcohol, however, the worse it can make the condition in the long term.
Which came first?
It’s difficult to establish which creates the other, but it is easy to see how depression and alcoholism become a cycle for many, and can be a cycle that is difficult to control and ‘get out of’.
Anyone can suffer from alcohol and depression
Alcoholism and depression can affect almost anyone. The more that celebrities and people in the public eye talk about their experiences and suffering, the more we can learn from them – and whether or not one came before the other, it’s important to receive the proper treatment for either.
Celebrities who suffer from alcoholism
Carrie Fisher, who was famous for playing Princess Leia in ‘Star Wars’, was often making public statements about her health and her addiction to alcohol. In her book, ‘Wishful Drinking’, she wrote:
‘If you think you have the expectation that you’re going to be happy throughout your life – more to the point, if you have a need to be comfortable all the time – well, among things, you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic’.
It’s true that alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism, and Fisher describes (in a humorous way) how drinking can make this worse.
Whether or not you can establish if the alcoholism or depression came first, at The Providence Project our only concern is to deal with the problem. We strive to first remove the dependency of alcohol – then deal with the causes of the problem.
What if an alcoholic requires treatment and is on anti-depressants?
If a client is on any anti-depressant medication, our highly experienced medical team will continue to monitor the prescription throughout your alcoholism treatment program.
The Providence Project has delivered a successful programme of drug and alcohol rehab for over seventeen years, and we are aware that the problem we are presented with is often just part of something much deeper. We have one of our professional and highly qualified counsellors available to speak to you in strictest confidence if you or a loved one could be in need of our help.
If you or a loved one is showing symptoms of alcoholism and would like more information, please call our counsellors today on 0800 955 09 45