Among the all the myths in modern culture, one of the most damaging might be that making a stiff drink during hard times will make things easier to deal with. We’ve all seen it on television or in the movies. The protagonist learns some dreadful news, takes a dramatic pause and says, “I need a drink.” In fact, studies show that drinking, especially during times of personal or professional stress, will likely lead to more emotional misery, depression and more drinks.
Depression and alcohol abuse can often be a question of the proverbial “chicken or the egg”. In other words, which came first, the alcohol dependency or the depression? According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), an estimated 20 percent of Americans with mood disorders, like depression also suffer from a substance abuse disorder, like alcoholism. And vice versa, 20 percent of people with a substance abuse disorder suffer from a mood disorder.
Symptoms of depression can include some of the following;
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness or helplessness
- Excessive sleeping or Insomnia
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions
- Reduced sex drive or loss of interest in hobbies or once enjoyed activities
- Isolating from friends and loved ones
- Persistent aches and pains, headaches or digestive issues
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
Symptoms of alcohol abuse can include some of the following:
- Unable to remember what happened after drinking, known as a black-out
- Friends and family members have expressed concern of drinking habits
- Professional or personal problems directly related to problem drinking
- Drinking in risky situations, such as while driving or on the job
- Missing school or work due to heavy drinking the night before
- The inability to stop drinking even after becoming drunk
- Continuing to drink even though it complicates health problems
Serotonin – Self-Medication
It’s quite common for people suffering from depression to self-medicate with alcohol. The effects tend to, at first, mask the painful symptoms of depression. In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Kathleen Brady, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina said;
“Depressed people who drink will most likely see their depression worsen, because alcohol is a depressant, tamping down the nervous system.”
For heavy drinkers who didn’t start out with depression, alcohol lowers levels of serotonin in the brain. A lack of the mood regulating serotonin in the body will, over time, lead to a mood disorder, such as depression, and exacerbate symptoms of alcoholism. The only healthy fix for depression and alcoholism is treatment for both.
Treating Depression & Alcoholism
Seeking treatment for these disorders is not a sign of weakness or moral failing. In fact, anyone suffering from these difficult symptoms should know that they can get better. Treatment may involve counseling, group therapy and even a combination of medicines, but those who get professional help generally experience a marked improvement in several weeks.
As society’s understanding of alcohol abuse and depression grows, the stigma associated with mood and substance use disorders will fade into the background. Then, more people will feel free to reach for a helping hand. We might even see the television and film protagonist take a dramatic pause after learning some dreadful news and say, “A drink is the last thing I need right now.”
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