Does Alcohol Cause Depression And Can You Fix It?

Updated July 07, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

Alcohol has always been used as a way to cope with emotions that people are uncomfortable with. People can enjoy a drink after a stressful day of work to relax, whereas others might deliberately try to self-medicate and numb their pain following the end of a relationship or the death of a loved one. Therefore, it’s very common for people to consume alcohol in response to the things that make them feel depressed, but does alcohol cause depression? This article will cover the connection between alcohol and depression as well as discuss ways you or someone you care about can get help.

The Effects of Alcohol on The Brain

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As mentioned in the introduction, negative emotions can drive people to drink, and this can lead to alcohol abuse if people drink to cope with their feelings. This is especially true for those who are just feeling depressed; rather, they are struggling with a common mental health condition – major depressive disorder (MDD).

Major depression affects about 1 in 15 people, but when you add alcohol abuse into the equation, it is estimated that out of those who have depression, 1 in 3 will also have signs of an alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, according to the American Addiction Centers. [1]

It’s well established that these conditions can go hand-in-hand, just like how anxiety and depression are often found paired together, and it happens because of how alcohol works in the brain.

By its very nature, alcohol is a depressant; even though it can make people feel more energetic and friendly, it also induces relaxation, hence why it’s common for people to have a drink or two when winding down and trying to reduce anxiety and de-stress.

Alcohol also makes you sleepy, and the more that people consume it, the more sedating it can be, and this is why you’ve probably heard of people “blacking out” after a period of heavy drinking.

The consumption of alcohol has a lot of different effects on the brain, and it can  depress certain areas of it. For example, it decreases activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with rational thought and decision-making. [2] This is why many people will have lower inhibitions and make risky choices while under the influence of alcohol.

It also slows down your motor activity, and people may have difficulties walking straight, hence why it’s a test used by police offers to help determine if someone was drinking and driving.

These are just a few examples of what some of the mechanisms are which illustrate how alcohol is a depressant, but does alcohol cause depression, or does alcohol help people cope with the condition with its depressing effects? Is alcohol abuse merely a depression symptom, or do people who start drinking first tend to develop major depression? The next section will discuss these issues further as you continue to read on.

Can Alcohol Cause Depression?

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While we know for sure that depression symptoms can cause people to drink and develop alcohol problems, the issue of whether or not alcohol is not fully understood, and it’s still debated.

For instance, the American Addiction Centers maintain that depression can arise because of alcoholism and that it’s more likely that people will develop depression because of their alcohol consumption, rather than the other way around. [1]

However, in this case, the symptoms of depression will go away once the individual ceases to drink. [1]

On the other hand, other medical sources state that those who have depression are more than twice as likely to develop a drinking habit. [4]

They also mention that alcohol can make depression symptoms worse. For example, excessive drinking can cause someone to run into financial trouble or lose their family, which can cause depression to spiral out of control, which can then lead to more drinking. Overall, it becomes a vicious cycle.

What is for certain here is that either one can be the cause of the condition and vice-versa. Additionally, not all depressed individuals will run into alcohol issues, nor will all alcohol abusers have major depression. What’s most important is knowing the risks of both of them, and there is a relationship between alcohol and depression.

How To Get Help For Alcoholism & Depression

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If you struggle with either depression or alcohol problems, or both simultaneously, it is possible to overcome both. However, the latter tends to be more challenging than the former.

Additionally, while there are certain aspects of both that can be treated at the same time, and there are correlations between the two, the abuse of alcohol and depression are two separate and complex issues that have certain symptoms that should be targeted separately, such as withdrawal.

For example, psychotherapy is highly recommended in the treatment of depression, and it can also help change the way you feel about alcohol by exploring the reasons that compel you to drink; however, alcoholism is something that will most likely require assistance from addiction specialists at a treatment center.

Finding an Alcohol Treatment Center

Treatment centers exist for all types of addictions that may coexist with depression, and they are also often just referred to as “rehab.” Drug and alcohol treatment centers can be found in your local area, and recovery will usually consist of multiple steps.

Usually, the patient will need to enroll in a treatment center near them where they will be evaluated closely and get information about your addiction and other things such as psychiatric history.

Following these assessments, patients will usually be able to begin the intake process, and treatment will either be in-patient or out-patient. However, in-patient treatment is the most common, especially those with severe alcoholism.

In-patient treatment at a treatment center is ideal because it will help you detox more safely. You will be able to receive medication that will help you move through the withdrawal stage easier.

Being in-patient treatment might not sound too comfortable, but it’s designed to make you successfully detox and not fall back on bad habits.

However, many treatment centers also have on-staff therapists who can make your time there easier by giving you the skills to cope with everything better, and also prepare you for when it’s time to go out on your own again. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one particular technique that has shown success in treating alcohol use disorder, and many people retain the skills that they learn through it.

Once you exit your treatment center, there are still options for you, and it’s recommended that you participate in them to prevent relapse and keep you sober. This is sometimes referred to as “aftercare” by some rehabilitation facilities, and it’s an ongoing process – it may be something that you need to attend and work on indefinitely.

One of the most popular places for those who struggle with alcohol problems to find support is through Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-Step programs where you can meet up with others and talk about your experiences. By being able to share, it makes the process easier for everyone involved, and many former patients who succeed will also be around to provide advice.

Finding Therapy For Depression

As mentioned earlier, therapy can be useful for treating depression and getting to the bottom of what causes you to want to drink alcohol. Without addressing depression, you may be at risk of drinking again because the primary source of depression hasn’t been resolved.

You may address some or all of these issues in an in-patient treatment center, still to stay on track, maintain sobriety, and keep making progress, it is ideal to continue therapy once you are out of the facility.

Finding a therapist who can help you is just as straight-forward as finding a rehabilitation center for alcohol, and an inquiry on your preferred search engine should yield some results nearby you that you can use.

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However, online therapy is an excellent choice as well, and it eliminates the need to travel anywhere, making it an extremely convenient option. It’s also discrete, affordable, and importantly, non-judgemental.

At BetterHelp, connecting to a licensed professional who can help you fight depression and give you support while you maintain sobriety is simple. Finding a counselor or therapist to help you is just a click away!

In addition to alcohol use disorder, one of the best psychotherapy techniques for helping individuals overcome depression is the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT can be used on a variety of mental health issues because of the core concepts that make it work, which is to change a person’s thoughts and beliefs about the problems that make them feel the way they do through conditioning. Essentially, you were conditioned to think and behave before, and you can be reconditioned to feel differently.

Therefore, by understanding how techniques like CBT work, you can be well-equipped to beat depression and alcohol use disorder because you’ll learn how to change negative thought patterns and maladaptive behaviors, such as drinking to cope, into ones that are more positive and productive.

Conclusion

If you’ve been wondering, “does alcohol cause depression?”, hopefully, this article has answered your question and provided you with other useful information regarding the topics of alcohol and depression. While it’s inconclusive that one is more impactful than the other, people are at risk of developing either condition – depression can result in alcohol use disorder, and alcohol can cause depression and maybe a depression symptom itself. Alcohol abuse can lead to events that can cause depression, such as family or financial issues. Both are serious conditions that need to be treated as soon as possible; it will take time and effort, but it is possible to overcome both conditions.

References

  1. Watkins, M. (2020, February 3). Alcohol and Depression: What is the Connection? Retrieved from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/depression
  2. Alcohol.org Editorial Staff. (2020, April 8). Why Alcohol Lowers Inhibitions and Leads to Bad Decisions. Retrieved from https://www.alcohol.org/effects/inhibitions/
  3. WebMD Staff. (2018, November 12). Alcohol Use, Abuse, and Depression: Is There a Connection? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/alcohol-and-depresssion#1

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