Heavy drinking and depression are often connected. Studies suggest that at least 30 to 40% of alcoholics suffer from depression. Many people with depression turn to alcohol to numb their negative feelings. And alcohol can make us temporarily more relaxed by causing us to let go of our inhibitions and increasing dopamine production. However, alcohol can also exacerbate depression and even be a root cause. This post explains how alcohol can fuel depression and how you can break the cycle of self-medicating with alcohol.
How does alcohol cause depression?
While alcohol does provide a brief high while you are using it, you may experience depression after drinking once the effects wear off. On top of having to deal with hangovers, our brain experiences a deficiency in ‘happy chemicals’ like dopamine the morning after. This causes any underlying depressive thoughts to come back with a vengeance.
Many of us also make mistakes while drunk that we can regret the morning after which could include embarrassing ourselves, neglecting responsibilities, breaking the law, acting aggressively to people or putting ourselves/others in danger. These poor decisions can make us feel worse about ourselves and even lead to breakups or job loss.
Some people can even get depressed while under the influence – while the first few drinks may make us happy, too many drinks can sometimes enhance negative feelings like sadness and anger. Without the inhibitions to bottle up these emotions, we may release them in public, which could mean crying in inappropriate settings or getting into fights.
How can you break the cycle?
If you think alcohol could be making you depressed, it is important that you break the cycle. There are a few ways in which you can do this.
Find an outlet beyond alcohol
There are many healthy ways to achieve a ‘high’ that don’t involve alcohol or substances. By replacing alcohol with one of these outlets, you can help combat depression without harming yourself (or indeed causing more depression).
A few healthy pick-me-ups include:
- Engaging in passions and hobbies
- Listening to music you love
- Laughter (whether it’s watching a comedy or spending time with funny friends)
- Spending time in nature
- Treating yourself to some spa therapy
- Engaging in healthy adrenaline activities (like trying adrenaline sports, eating chillies, riding roller-coasters or watching horror movies)
A common mistake people make is trying to go sober without finding a replacement outlet such as the ones listed above. Going sober without finding another way of de-stressing will just leave you empty and you’ll be more likely to relapse.
Connect with other ex-drinkers
Drinking alcohol is a social activity for many people. You may be more tempted to relapse if you hang around with people who drink a lot. When going sober, it is advised that you spend less time around people drinking alcohol for the first few months. This doesn’t mean that you have to cut back on socialisation however. Instead, try to make new friends with people who don’t drink of whom you can enjoy activities with that don’t involve alcohol.
Ex-drinkers are some of the best people to befriends when overcoming alcohol addiction. They know what it’s like to enjoy alcohol and you will be able to more easily open up to them about how you are feeling. There are many sites and support groups that you can use to connect with people who are sober.
You can still stay friends with people who drink heavily, but you should try to meet up in settings that don’t involve alcohol. If friends aren’t willing to make this compromise, you should consider whether the friendship is worth keeping.
Explore treatment options for depression
You should also consider exploring treatments for depression. If drinking excessively was a knock-on effect of depression, then beating depression is a sure way to fight the urge to drink – in turn breaking the cycle.
There are many ways to overcome depression including seeking out professional therapy, attending support groups and using self-help apps. Experiment with different methods to work out which one is most rewarding.
What else would you add?
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