Alcohol Use and Depression Are Common Partners


Do you reach for a cocktail after a stressful day at work or drink a glass of wine to help you unwind in the evening? Do you find that having a few beers at a party lightens your mood?  Alcohol triggers the release of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones, and for many, a drink or two is a quick mood adjuster. Drinking is also a social activity, and attending events where alcohol is served my lift the spirits of those suffering feelings of isolation. However, alcohol’s effect is temporary. As uplifting as a drink may be, alcohol is a depressant, and excessive drinking raises stress hormone levels, which only aggravates depression symptoms.  

The complex relationship between alcohol use and depression

About 20 percent of Americans who suffer depression or other mood disorders also have a substance abuse problem, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. This is double the rate of alcoholism among those without mood disorders. Substance abuse and depression seem to work in tandem. Although research has not definitively determined if one causes the other. Studies have shown that a period of heavy drinking, even in the emotionally healthy, can induce a major depressive episode

Symptoms of alcoholism and depression overlap and each disorder intensifies feelings of sadness, numbness and despair. Those who use alcohol as a form of self-medication for depression put themselves at higher risk of developing an alcohol addiction, creating a duel-diagnosis that requires a more complex treatment approach.

Antidepressants and alcohol don’t mix

Additional problems arise for those who drink while being treated with antidepressant medications. The combination can produce adverse drug reactions, some mild, such as drowsiness, and others more severe. Alcohol intensifies the effects of tricyclic antidepressants and the combination can lead to convolutions. MAO inhibiters, combined with alcohol may cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure. Even at moderate drinking levels, alcohol will disrupt the way medications are metabolized, reducing their effectiveness.

You can increase your levels of “feel good” hormones without alcohol

There are ways you can reap the benefits you get from alcohol without the negative side effects:

  • Hit the dance floor — Aerobic exercise naturally boosts endorphin production in the brain. A brisk walk, a game of tennis or working out to an exercise video is an effective way to lift your mood and provides the added benefit of strengthening your cardio vascular system.
  • Eat well — A healthy diet provides the brain with nutrients necessary to produce endorphins. Some studies suggest an association between sugar consumption and depression, so it is best to limit sugary foods. Caffeine can give you a mental boost, but too much may cause the jitters and anxiety.
  • Get a good night’s sleep — Sleep deprivation can leave you moody, irritable and cause you to view everything in a negative light. Your brain will not function properly with inadequate sleep. Try to establish regular sleep patterns and seek professional help if insomnia is an issue.

These healthy approaches to dealing with depression may not be as easy as pouring a drink, but replacing that cocktail with some good habits will be provide more benefits in the long-run and help you avoid the harmful partnership of alcohol and depression.