Alcohol is a reliable way to temporarily reduce anxiety. It has a fast-working calming effect on the body and mind. And further, it’s a socially acceptable way to relax, making it difficult to dig into the reality of its potentially negative impact on mental health for some people. But the connection between depression and alcohol is undeniable.
Sadness, a loss of interest in activities, erratic sleep patterns, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, concentration problems, suicidal thoughts, and guilt are just a handful of the symptoms exhibited by a person with depression, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). And just like alcoholism, it can sometimes be attributed to genetics.
Drinking is actually a common tactic used by some people to cope with their depression. Going back to that original statement about it temporarily relieving anxiety or depression symptoms, according to the American Addiction Centers, alcohol worsens depression over the long term. Excessive drinking can trigger financial consequences as well as impact personal relationships negatively, worsening the initial depression and creating a cycle of abusing alcohol in an effort to reduce depression. Alcohol abuse can also create a physical dependency, which according to WebMD, a third of people suffering from a depressive disorder have a concurrent AUD. Essentially, the onset of one — depression or alcohol abuse — can be a trigger to uncover the other. And in the case of people that are already diagnosed with depression and given antidepressant medications, alcohol use can actually worsen the symptoms. Alcohol directly interferes with many antidepressants, making them less effective or even com[pletely useless for patients.
While depression can put a person at a higher risk of developing a drinking problem, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the opposite is actually more common — depression often arises as a result of alcohol abuse. Again, it’s a cycle where one influences the other, perpetuating itself. In the case of alcoholism sparking depression, though, quitting drinking is actually a valid tactic for curing depression. It’s expected that depression symptoms will often dissipate after drinking has stopped, and according to a study published in ‘Addiction,’ individuals dealing with an alcohol use disorder or depression are at twice the risk of developing the other condition. The study concluded that depression is more likely to occur as a result of alcohol abuse rather than the other way around. But the causality is confirmed in both directions. The study found links between the neurophysiological and metabolic changes brought about by alcohol abuse and the mechanisms for depression to occur, concluding that abuse of alcohol puts an individual at a significantly greater risk of developing depression than a person who is not abusing alcohol.
So there’s plenty of proof behind the idea that alcohol abuse induces depression and depression can also induce a substance abuse problem. But keep in mind there is a significant gap between that and an occasional drink or two to relieve anxiety.