The link between alcohol and mental health is indisputable. For years, people have turned to alcohol in times of both celebration and despair. Milestone celebrations are toasted with champagne and difficult days are ended with a stiff drink. While alcohol consumption is safe in moderation, abuse of its mood-altering properties can lead to serious addictions. Many people use alcohol to drown the symptoms of depression, and others find themselves in the depressive episodes after excessive consumption.
So, what exactly is the connection between alcohol and depression? To best understand the ways in which they intertwine, it’s best to first understand what each of these factors are and the ways in which they affect the body.
Alcohol and the mind
Upon initial consumption, alcohol acts as a stimulant. Drinking increases the level of norepinephrine in the brain, causing the feeling of a “buzz” or arousal. This increase in energy and lowering of inhibitions is typically the appeal of alcohol consumption. However, when too much alcohol is ingested, particularly in instances of abuse, the increase begins to take on negative effects.
The human brain contains a group of neurotransmitters known as GABA. The role of these neurotransmitters is to block nerve impulses and calm the central nervous system, or CNS. Because of its classification as a CNS depressant, alcohol intensifies the GABA, thus causing symptoms of depression. The damage done to this portion of the CNS is what causes delay in response, poor judgment, and slurred speech patterns.
In the US alone, more than 40 million adults are diagnosed with a form of anxiety or depressive disorder. In fact, depressive disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in America, with links to both mental and physical health. In many depression patients, symptoms of insomnia, weight fluctuation, mood changes, and thoughts of suicide are prevalent.
More than 6% of the population is reported to have major depressive disorder each year. The cause of depression changes on a patient-to-patient basis. For some, depression is triggered by circumstances, while others may be genetically predisposed. Depression can also be the result of hormone imbalances, chemical imbalances in the brain, or changes in the season. Whatever the cause, mental illnesses such as depression can become debilitating, making them the leading cause of disability in America.
How are these two connected?
The link between alcohol and depression is not a one-size-fits-all connection. While depression can lead to alcohol abuse, the cause-and-effect often moves in the opposite direction. More than a third of patients with major depressive disorders struggle with alcohol abuse. In these instances, it’s common for comorbidity to begin with depression. This link isn’t unique to adults. Many teens who suffer from depression begin drinking at an earlier age than their peers.
In contrast, the continued abuse of alcohol and consequent triggering of neurotransmitters can result in depression. Abusing alcohol can even lessen the effectiveness of various antidepressants. In patients with severe alcoholism, the depressive effects of drinking include numbness to pain, obstructed breathing, tremors, and blackouts.
When found in a vicious cycle of drinking and depressive episodes, seeking professional help is the first step to healing. Finding the right help is as simple as researching professionals in a given area such as “Canada rehab centers” or “treatment centers near me.” There are also a variety of online resources that can do the work of finding the right match for individual needs such as withtherapy.
Whether a person drinks to distract from their circumstances, or finds themselves depressed from overconsumption, the two go hand-in-hand. While unique to each individual, the effects of alcohol on depression and vice versa is undeniable.