Alcohol is has become part of our culture. We drink socially, for fun, when we are stressed, or even for our health. Generally, this drinking is reasonable and our culture is comfortable with light to moderate alcohol use. However, drinking has become such a part of our culture that we often hear people use phrases such as “driven to drink” or “drowning our sorrows.” A drink every once in a while to deal with sadness or stress is normal; however, drinking to reduce stress can easily become problematic. If you need a drink every time a problem arises, this could be a sign of problem drinking. There is a very strong link between heavy drinking and depression. However, the question remains, does depression make us drink or do we drink to reduce the symptoms of depression?
The immediate effects of alcohol arise from depression of the brain. It creates a sense of relaxation. However, it dulls your senses making it more difficult to make decisions. Alcohol also dulls perception and reaction times, creating difficulty with operating machinery such as driving a car. Continued drinking will make you unsteady on your feet, your speech will start to slur and you may say things you might regret. Further drinking can cause people to be sleepy, dizzy or sick. Some people may black out, or even pass out.
Alcohol is an easy way for people to feel better in the short term. However, it may be tempting to use alcohol to keep going and to deal with life’s problems. Problems arise when people slip into a routine of using alcohol as a medication to treat symptoms of stress or depression. The following are signs of alcohol abuse:
- You feel you have to have a drink instead of choosing to do so
- Attaining and drinking alcohol becomes more important than other things in life
- You start drinking earlier and earlier in the day
- You gain tolerance to alcohol; you have to drink more than you used to to get the same results
- Although drinking causes problems in your life you continue to do it
- Relationships and work starts to suffer
- You binge drink
In the long-term, overuse and abuse of alcohol can have some very scary effects. Alcoholism can lead to symptoms of psychosis such as auditory hallucinations (hearing things that aren’t there) and dementia similar to that of an Alzheimer’s patient. There is also physical damage associated with alcoholism, such damage to the liver and brain. We know that there is a connection between alcohol and depression. Alcohol is a depressant drug which affects the chemistry of the brain. Regularly drinking too much can lead to feelings of depression, especially during periods when you are not drinking. This can lead to more drinking to relieve the symptoms brought on by alcoholism. Alcohol’s effects on the brain appear to increase the risk of depression. This can clearly lead to a vicious cycle where depression and alcoholism are both present.
Nearly one-third of people with major depressive disorder are reported to have an alcohol problem. Research shows that children who are depressed are more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life. In addition, it has been shown that teens who have had one or more major depressive episodes are twice as likely to start drinking than their non-depressed peers. Research has also shown that alcoholism and depression share at least one common gene.
So what is the answer to our chicken or the egg problem of depression and alcohol abuse? It is certain that those that are predisposed to depression have a greater likelihood of drinking, most likely to self-medicate depressive symptoms. However, the opposite is also true. Heavy drinking can lead to major problems in life, including health problems, relationship problems and issues with work and productivity. All of these factors, combined with the fact that alcohol is a depressant can lead to depression. The lesson: depression and alcohol don’t mix. If you have an alcohol problem or are depressed and tempted to use alcohol to deal with your feelings, seek help.