Last month saw the death of two celebrities, both of whom are well documented as having struggled with addiction and mental health problems. Carrie Fisher began abusing drugs and alcohol at a very young age to try and deal with her own unhappiness and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. George Michael also struggled with addiction to drugs and was known to be taking anti-anxiety prescription medication.
So what is the link between alcohol and mental health problems? Do people with depression use alcohol to escape unhappiness, or does alcohol cause depression?
Alcohol and depression – The statistics
Around 40% of people who drink heavily have the signs and symptoms of a depressive disorder, but when these same people are not drinking, this reduces to 5 – 10%. This suggests that the heavy drinking can cause the signs of depression among people who may not otherwise experience it.
People who suffer from anxiety or depression are twice as likely to be problem or heavy drinkers.
The Link between alcohol and depression
Given the above statistics, it would seem therefore that heavy drinking can cause depression, but depression does not cause you to become alcoholic. However, many people struggling with depression often use drugs and alcohol to escape their lives when they are depressed.
The problem arises when people do use alcohol to deal with their unhappiness. Drinking alcohol temporarily makes you feel relaxed and happy but as you drink more regularly, you need larger quantities of alcohol to achieve this feeling. It is when large quantities of alcohol are consumed that it starts to act as a depressant.
This can also act as self-perpetuating circle. As you drink too much, it will start to affect your relationships and work and it will make your life seem even more depressing. It will feel as though nothing goes right for you and you could find yourself drinking larger amounts as a temporary relief from an unhappy existence.
Alcoholism and treatment for depression
Alcohol is not the answer to your depression and to some extent it may even be causing some of your depressive symptoms. If you are suffering from a major depression, then consuming large amounts of alcohol will certainly be making it seem worse and drinking heavily can counteract the effects of any anti-depressants and increase the side effects such as drowsiness or dizziness.
Depression and treatment for alcoholism
If you are “self-medicating” to treat depression with alcohol, it is likely that you will find it harder to stop drinking without some additional treatment for your depression. However a complete withdrawal from alcohol will reduce the depressive symptoms that have been caused by excessive drinking and will help you to deal more effectively with the underlying depression. It will also mean that by dealing with the depression you will be less likely to relapse once you have stopped drinking.
The cause and effect relationship between alcohol and depression is complex one. Anxiety and depression are more common in heavy drinkers and heavy drinking is more common in those with anxiety and depression, but they are not inextricably linked. Getting the proper treatment for both can lead to lasting change.