Alcohol addiction can be debilitating, affecting not only the person with the addiction but the friends and family too. Just like alcohol addiction, depression can affect all areas of your life – for example, your finances and relationships, and general wellbeing.
But what causes depression? Can alcohol cause depression? Read on to learn more about alcohol addiction and how alcohol and mental health are connected.
On this page, we are going to be exploring the links between alcohol and mental health, including whether alcohol and alcohol use disorder can cause depression.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
In 2022, medical professionals tend to steer clear of terms such as ‘alcoholic’, ‘alcohol addiction’, ‘alcoholism’, and ‘alcohol abuse’, as they are considered harmful and can stigmatise those with addiction. Instead, doctors use the term ‘alcohol use disorder’, which covers all of the above.
Alcohol use disorder can vary in severity, being categorised as either mild, moderate, or severe – with addiction being the more severe form of alcohol use disorder.
It is a widely recognised physical and mental illness, characterised by the urge to drink alcohol despite the negative effects that occur from excessive drinking.
Often shortened to AUD, alcohol use disorder involves the lack of control over alcohol consumption – for example, the amount you drink, how often you drink, or when you start and stop drinking.
It is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder that can include addiction to alcohol, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcoholism.
In 2019, over 14 million adults had AUD – and over 414,000 young people within the age range of 12-17 had a form of alcohol use disorder. [i]
There are an estimated 700,000 dependent drinkers in England, which equates to 1 in 30 women and 1 in 12 men showing signs of alcohol dependence. [ii]
Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
It isn’t always easy to spot the signs of alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence, whether it be in yourself or a loved one.
Some people with AUD may hide their drinking, or be in denial about the extent of their problem. For example, people may hide their drinking habits from others, and be secretive about their drinking.
In some cases, people may become angry or frustrated if confronted about their drinking – or deny it altogether.
Medical professionals and addiction specialists will diagnose alcohol use disorder by checking the DSM-5 criteria – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition.
Doctors will assess drinking habits over 12 months to see if it has caused significant distress or impairment, as determined by the following diagnostic criteria. [iii]
Lack Of Control Over Alcohol Consumption
The main symptom of alcohol addiction is the lack of control over alcohol use. This can include being unable or struggling to control how long you drink/ how long the drinking session is, or how much you consume when you do drink alcoholic beverages.
Another way that this can present itself is by being unable to stop drinking once you start drinking.
People with a lack of control over their drinking may also drink at inappropriate times or places – for example, at work, in the morning, or in public places where drinking is restricted or drinking bans are in place.
Somebody with alcohol use disorder may prioritise alcohol – in many cases, alcohol will become their main priority, and everything else may seem less important than drinking alcohol.
If you have alcohol use disorder, you may choose alcohol over your daily activities and responsibilities. For example, you may drink alcohol instead of going to work or cooking dinner for your family, or attending to other family responsibilities.
If drinking alcohol is more important to you than your health and day-to-day responsibilities, then you likely have a form of an alcohol use disorder, alcohol dependence, or alcohol addiction.
Unpleasant Effects of Drinking
One of the best ways of recognising an alcohol addiction is looking out for unwanted effects from drinking – whether it be physical symptoms or mental symptoms and effects.
Alcohol can affect your physical health and your mental health – and people with an alcohol problem will continue to drink despite this.
If you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol or lower your typical amount, then you likely have alcohol dependence. People with alcohol dependence (a physical alcohol dependence) may continue drinking to ease the negative withdrawal symptoms.
If you drink for a long period of time or drink large amounts of alcohol/ abuse alcohol, then you may begin to notice that your tolerance increases.
You may not feel the same effects after drinking your normal amount of alcohol or feel the need to drink more alcohol to feel ‘drunk’. People with a high alcohol tolerance may appear sober to others after drinking high amounts of alcohol.
Depression and Mental Health
Depression is a mood disorder that can cause a low mood – and can change your outlook on life. Feeling depressed can leave you teary – but clinical depression is more than that: depression is a mental health condition.
Somebody with depression may experience:
- Lack of motivation
- Crying more than usual
- Low mood
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Trouble completing everyday tasks (e.g making the bed or cleaning)
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
Depression can also affect you physically. Some physical symptoms of depression can include:
- Sleeping more than usual and/ or lethargy
- Changes in appetite (e.g eating more than usual or not eating as much)
- Trouble staying asleep or difficulty getting to sleep
- Lack of or low sex drive
There are clear links between suicide, alcoholism, depression, and other mental health disorders. For example, evidence suggests that those in contact with mental health services that have a history of alcohol problems could be at a higher risk of suicide.
Between 2007 and 2017, there were close to 6,000 suicides in mental health patients with a history of alcohol misuse. This is the equivalent of around 10% of all deaths by suicide in England. [iv]
Due to the links between mental health, suicide, and alcohol use disorder, there are policies in place that aim at managing patients with comorbid alcohol and drug misuse. These policies have been shown to reduce suicide rates in patients by 25%. [v]
Other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and anxiety are also linked to alcohol use disorder. Read on to learn more about dual diagnosis. Major depression, psychotic depression, and all other types of depressive disorders can be affected by alcohol use disorder.
Dual diagnosis is a term used to describe a mental health disorder and substance abuse problem that occurs simultaneously.
A person with a dual diagnosis will experience a mental health issue (for example, depression), and substance use disorder (for example, alcohol addiction) at the same time, co-occurring.
A person with depression may be more likely to drink or abuse alcohol – as a form of self-medication. Alcohol may temporarily relieve symptoms of depression such as insomnia or irritability but can be damaging both in the long term and the short term.
There haven’t been many studies that compare the drinking habits of those with depression. A study that looked into alcohol use alongside treatment for depression compared alcohol habits in adults with a diagnosis of depression in primary care with the general population.
The study found that alcohol problems and hazardous drinking (for example, binge drinking) were much higher in patients receiving treatment for depression in primary care.
This study, conducted in Sweden, found that adults in the age groups of 28-50 and 51-71 years of age showed higher rates of alcohol issues than the younger age group of 17-27. [vi]
Now you have a firmer understanding of depression, alcohol addiction, and dual-diagnosis, it’s time to answer the question – does alcohol use cause depression? Read on to find out.
Does Alcohol Cause Depression?
According to the NHS, depression can have a range of causes – but sometimes, there is no known cause. Certain things can trigger depression – for example, life-changing events such as losing a job, having a baby, or a bereavement.
People with a family history of depression may also be at an increased risk of developing depression themselves. [vii]
We’ve established that there are links between alcohol and depression, but does alcohol cause depression? Well, according to HSE England, alcohol can not only make depression worse, but it could even cause it – alcohol affects your mental health.
Alcohol may temporarily relieve feelings of anxiety or sadness, but when the effects of alcohol wear off, you may feel worse than you did before.
People who drink heavily are more likely to suffer from depression – and alcohol dependence is shown to be around three times more likely among those with depression. [viii]
You may have noticed that you don’t feel yourself the morning after drinking – whether you drank too much over a short or long period.
Alcohol is a depressant – it affects the chemicals in your brain (for example, dopamine and serotonin). When you drink alcohol, you may feel a boost in these chemicals – but the next day, you’ll be deficient in them. This can leave you feeling down, depressed, and anxious.
Drinking alcohol can lead to the release of pent-up emotions. For example, alcohol can make feelings of sadness or anger more intense. This can affect your relationships, friendships, and of course, your health.
Alcohol can change the way we think – drinking alcohol regularly and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can give you a ‘foggy brain’ which can lead to frustration. You may not think as clearly as normal if you consume alcohol regularly.
If you notice that your depression symptoms improve after stopping drinking alcohol, then there’s a chance that alcohol is the cause.
However, if the depression symptoms persist after stopping drinking, then it’s important to speak with your GP. You don’t have to deal with depression alone, and there is help out there for you.
You may be referred for therapy or counselling, or prescribed medication as a form of treatment. However, if you are prescribed antidepressants, it’s imperative that you follow the doctor’s instructions.
Most prescription medications for alcohol aren’t supposed to be taken with alcohol. Alcohol may increase the side effects of antidepressants – if you’re uncertain, be sure to ask your doctor or medical professional. Some antidepressants can also increase the chances of you relapsing when stopping drinking. [ix]
Help for Alcohol Addiction
There is help out here for you, and you don’t have to recover from alcohol use disorder alone. Whether you’re looking for an NHS-operated rehab or a private rehab facility, we can help find the right place for you to undergo treatment.
One size does not fit all when it comes to rehab treatment. Some people prefer to attend rehab as an outpatient, travelling from their home to an outpatient facility.
However, others prefer inpatient rehab at a residential rehab centre. One of the reasons many people prefer to attend a residential clinic is because some of the temptations from your everyday life are removed from the equation, allowing you to detox and recover in a different environment.
Residential rehab involves living in a residential facility throughout your rehab journey – which means you won’t have to travel to and from rehab to receive treatment and attend sessions.
Quasi-residential rehab is essentially a combination of both outpatient rehab and inpatient rehab – you’ll live in a residential rehab centre but attend some sessions at other facilities.
Read on to learn more about the rehab treatment process, from detoxification to secondary treatment.
The first stage of rehab treatment for alcohol involves detoxing from the substance – which means any and all access to alcohol will be cut off so your body can free itself from the substance.
During this stage, you may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, you may be given alcohol detox medication to ease these uncomfortable symptoms.
The length of the withdrawal symptoms and time it takes to detox varies from person to person, depending on a range of factors including your height, weight, tolerance and addiction history. [x]
Detoxification aims at dealing with the physical aspect of addiction, as opposed to the behavioural, social, and psychological effects. This is something that the next stage of rehab aims at dealing with – addiction therapy.
The therapy options available can vary from clinic to clinic – and some people find that private rehab facilities have more options when it comes to therapy.
Most rehab centres offer different types of therapy, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), counselling, family therapy, group therapy, and interpersonal therapy. Therapy can be an effective depression treatment, as well as addiction treatment.
The aim of therapy in rehab is not only to treat and improve existing or comorbid mental health disorders such as depression but improve your confidence and strength.
Therapy can give you a firm understanding of your addiction – any root causes of your addiction, or your addiction triggers.
Upon completing rehab, you may wish to continue receiving treatment. Secondary treatment, also known as aftercare, aims at easing the transition from rehab to your everyday life, ultimately preventing relapse.
Some common forms of secondary treatment include further counselling, group therapies, and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
How Help4Addiction Can Help You
We understand that taking the first steps towards alcohol addiction treatment can be difficult – and it can be difficult to even admit that you have a problem.
Well, at Help4Addiction, our team will listen to your story with a sympathetic ear – taking into consideration your circumstances, requirements and preferences to find the right alcohol addiction treatment plan and rehab centre for you.
Help4Addiction was founded by a former addict, who firmly believes that rehab treatment saved his life. Once he received the right treatment, his goal became to use his personal experience with addiction to help others with addiction problems or substance use disorder.
If you think that you or a loved one is an addict, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Contact our friendly team of experts today to learn more about how we can help you, and to get the ball rolling on the admissions process.
We are in contact with rehab centres located all around England and Wales and can find the right treatment facility for you to undergo detox, therapy, and secondary treatment.
Whether you’re looking for alcohol addiction treatment, drug addiction treatment (e.g prescription drugs or illicit drugs such as cocaine or heroin), or nicotine addiction treatment, we can ensure you find and receive the best treatment for you.