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Alcoholism and Depression

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

April 1, 2019

It is often debated about whether alcoholism causes depression or if depression causes alcoholism. Whatever the case, there is a clear link between alcohol and depression that can leave an individual stuck in a cycle of addiction and depression, unable to overcome either without the proper help.

You may have heard alcohol be referred to as a depressant before, but what does that really mean? Alcohol is classified as a depressant, which in drug terms means that it lowers stimulation in various parts of the brain.

You may have heard of depressants before in terms of ‘uppers and downers.’ Caffeine, for example, would classify as an ‘upper’ while drugs such as alcohol and Xanax (an anti-anxiety medication) would classify as ‘downers.’

Although slightly misleading, the slang term ‘downer’ can often be an accurate representation of the effect alcohol has on your physical and mental health. Not only can alcohol reduce your body’s ability to function, but it can also affect the chemistry of your brain in negative ways.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a serious disease that afflicts millions of Americans. It is a condition in which the afflicted user cannot control the amount or frequency of alcohol they consume. This pattern of behavior can make alcoholism a very difficult addiction to overcome.

Alcoholics may find that it is extremely hard, or sometimes impossible, to overcome the urge to drink when it arises. In some cases, this urge presents itself as a habit such as grabbing a beer out of the fridge when you get home from work. Relying on routines such as this can often provide alcoholics with excuses as to why they are drinking, allowing them to enable themselves to continue down the road of alcoholism.

In some circumstance, alcoholics may continue to drink because they feel physically or mentally ill when they do not consume for any period of time. This is also known as withdrawals, which can be a tell tale sign of alcoholism.

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Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism can present itself in various ways depending on the severity or length that an addicted individual has had the disease. Some alcoholics are very skilled at hiding their drinking habits and the symptoms that come along with it. However, if you suspect a loved one is suffering from alcoholism, there are some external signs that may point to this addiction.

Some of these signs include:

  • Distancing themselves from friends or family
  • Missing financial deadlines
  • Inability to keep a steady job
  • Lying to family members about their alcohol consumption
  • High tolerance for large amounts of alcohol
  • Irritation and symptoms of withdrawal when not consuming alcohol
  • Inability to control words or actions while drinking
  • A deviation from normal routine or personality

What is Depression?

Depression is an increasingly common mental disease that afflicts both adults and children. It has become widely diagnosed and talked about in the United States, and more than 3 million Americans are diagnosed with depression every year.

From a biological standpoint, the cause of depression isn’t entirely known yet. While there are some theories that point to a chemical imbalance in the brain as the cause of depression, the truth has yet to be discovered.

While it is tempting to search for one tell-all cause of depression, the reality of it is that each case of the disease can be independently unique and therefore difficult to treat. Antidepressants are a widely accepted treatment of depression, but they do not work for everyone.

Depression can be a crippling disease that affects many parts of an individual’s personal, professional, and social life. If therapy and antidepressants do not work for someone suffering from depression, it is not uncommon for them to turn to other methods of coping with the disease.

Alcohol, among other drugs, is sometimes used as a method of coping with the symptoms of depression. While it can produce some calming effects by suppressing the nervous system, it can ultimately add to the negative thoughts and feelings associated with depression.

The Relationship Between Alcoholism and Depression

It is not uncommon for individuals to falsely associate alcohol with depression simply because of its categorization as a depressant. Alcohol is labeled as a depressant because it interferes with the nerves that send signals to other parts of your brain, which can in turn inhibit functional activity such as walking or driving, as well as nervous activity such as speaking.

There is, however, a definite link between alcoholism and depression. There are arguments on both sides when it comes to which disease causes the other, but the truth is it varies based on each affected individuals’ scenario.

For some individuals, alcohol is used as a coping mechanism for dealing with depression. This use can start innocently enough, as it is a legal and accessible outlet for dealing with stressful days and an escape from life’s tougher moments. Over time this coping mechanism can swiftly turn into an automatic crutch to numb the pain until tomorrow.

For others, alcoholism can be the factor that leads them down the road of depression. Those who suffer from alcoholism may find their lives to be drastically affected, and generally not in positive ways. From personal relationships to professional careers, alcoholics may find themselves living a life they never intended. If this sounds like you or someone you love there are support groups and specialized individual treatments available for alcohol misuse.

No matter which disease came first, alcoholism and depression are not light matters to deal with on your own. Depression and alcoholism can be a vicious and self-destructing cycle to break. While it may seem hopeless at times, breaking this cycle can truly be life saving.

Get Help for Alcoholism Today

Standing up to alcoholism and depression is a task no one should have to take on alone. Our rehab center specialists are here to help you start your journey to rehabilitation from alcohol. Contact us today.

WebMD - Alcohol and Depression

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - Depression

Mayo Clinic - Alcohol Use Disorder

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