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Alcohol and Depression: Exploring the Connection

A direct connection between alcohol and depression exists with many who have an alcohol use disorder, and vice versa, a diagnosable mental health condition. It is difficult to determine if depression is present first and if the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism for the adverse symptoms of depression is secondary.

On the other hand, many may experience an alcohol use disorder first and develop depression as a result of declining physical and mental health. To fully understand the connection between the 2, it’s essential to realize that both conditions are real medical illnesses that require professional treatment to overcome and feed off each other. 

Understanding The Relationship

The risk for alcohol abuse is much higher for those with a mental health condition, including depression. The brain uses neurotransmitters, which are pathways to control emotions, feelings, and mood. Depression can develop when the most well-known neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, are out of balance.

The intensity of sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness adversely affect the ability to think and act. In turn, alcohol use disrupts brain chemistry, altering normal brain functioning and causing a damaging escalation of mood, control, and ability to use good judgment. 

Dual Diagnosis: When Alcohol Is A Coping Mechanism

Dual diagnosis is the diagnosis containing a substance use disorder and mental health conditions existing at the same time. Consequently, those considering treatment for an alcohol use disorder may find through an evaluation or assessment that a dual diagnosis is present.

The use of alcohol and depression, or a dual diagnosis, often provides a pattern of self-medication of depression symptoms and increasing severity of the AUD. Without professional help, it is difficult to let go of self-medicating and the dangerous cycle it produces. 

How Depression and Alcohol Go Hand in Hand

Depression and alcohol go hand in hand because drinking alcohol relieves depressive symptoms and anxiety. Alcohol provides an emotional release and a calming sense of peace. The problem lies in the fact that when the alcohol wears off, the depressive symptoms return and intensify.

The symptoms of depression can include chronic joint pain, limb pain, back pain, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, sleep problems, and appetite changes. Again, while alcohol provides short-term relief, as excessive drinking continues, more physical and mental problems develop from excessive use. 

Short and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

According to The Centers for Disease Control, the short-term effects of alcohol abuse have a direct impact on the individual and the community. Alcohol increases the risk of many harmful health conditions.

Alcohol abuse affects the community by increasing the chance of violence, sexual assaults, and intimate partner violence. Short-term adverse effects can also include injuries from falls, drownings, burns, and motor vehicle accidents. 

Short-term effects of alcohol abuse can include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted disease
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Destruction of lifestyle

The long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Adverse health effects such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive issues
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Increased risk of developing dementia
  • Mental health disorders
  • Social problems

Does Alcohol Make Depression Worse?

Alcohol can make depression worse in many ways. Excessive alcohol use alters brain chemistry, which can interrupt the production of neurotransmitters that could help depression. Altered brain chemistry can also cause additional mental health concerns.

Drinking alcohol while experiencing depression can induce suicidal thoughts as well as thoughts of self-harm. Alcohol taken with antidepressants is also a dangerous combination. 

Alcohol Withdrawal and Depression

Depression is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. For an individual who is already depressed, this symptom needs to be medically managed throughout withdrawal. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can offer relief from depression through medication to reduce depression.

Mental health professionals work hand-in-hand with medical professionals to prescribe the safest combination of drugs to reduce depression and make the detox process more comfortable. 

Treatment and Support

Dual diagnosis treatment is often successful when the professional treatment center puts the correct treatment programs in place. The patient must undergo treatment for the alcohol use disorder first. Alcohol detox is safest in a professional treatment center that offers medically managed detox with the option of medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Withdrawal from alcohol can be dangerous and life-threatening. After alcohol detox is complete, treatment for alcohol use disorder and depression are separate components. Individual, group, and family therapy can assist in healing the individual with addiction.

Counseling with a mental health provider and a medical professional can address the depression diagnosis. Incorporating holistic therapies is an excellent opportunity to learn some life-sustaining tools for longevity in sobriety. Recovery from a dual diagnosis of alcohol and depression is possible. 

Find Alcohol and Depression Support and Recovery Near Tennessee

If you are looking into recovery and treatment options for an alcohol use disorder and depression, you have many options to choose from. Tennessee Valley Recovery offers evidence-based therapies in combination with holistic and equine therapies to round out a solid treatment plan. The staff offers understanding, compassion, and experience in a beautiful setting.

Contact the center today for more information and to enroll in the beginning of a new life.