Think one drink won’t hurt? Maybe you’re downing a few beers after a stressful week at work or after a heart-wrenching breakup. You’re thinking a few drinks will relax you and make you feel good.
But if you’re suffering from depression, think again before reaching for a drink. Even a small amount of alcohol can have negative effects.
Alcohol has a sedative effect on your brain. While a few beers or glasses of wine can seem to relieve stress and make you feel more relaxed and calm, they can actually put you at an increased risk of depression. Alcohol is a depressant that can cause your problems to seem worse than they actually are and can make you feel even more depressed than before you had a drink.
Alcohol can also worsen some of your depression symptoms, including thoughts of suicide. Alcohol can enhance the severity and duration of many common depression symptoms, including the following:
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Irritability and restlessness
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
In addition, if you are taking antidepressants, alcohol can have a negative interaction with the drugs and further exacerbate your depression symptoms.
People who abuse alcohol have the highest rates of depression. Studies have shown that, among people abusing alcohol, somewhere between 30 percent and 50 percent suffer depressive symptoms at any given time.
And it also works the other way. According to WebMD, nearly one-third of people with severe depression abuse alcohol. Research also shows that children who are depressed are more likely to develop problems with alcohol abuse once they reach adolescence.
Alcohol’s Effect on Depression
Alcohol can also affect your body’s functions in ways that further exacerbate depression symptoms:
- Alcohol can lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels, which help regulate mood. Lower levels of these chemicals can make a depressed person more depressed.
- Alcohol temporarily cuts off the effects of stress hormones. This can exaggerate your depression symptoms because it depresses the brain and nervous system.
- Stress or drugs such as alcohol or cocaine can activate a gene that is linked to depression and other mental health problems. The gene can result in seizures, depression, manic-depressive episodes, and other mental problems, according to Robert Post, chief of the biological psychiatry branch of the National Institute of Health (NIH).
- Folic acid deficiency contributes to aging brain processes and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Depression is also common in those with folate deficiency. Alcohol use can lower levels of folic acid.
- Alcohol disrupts sleep and alters the thought process, which can increase depression symptoms.
We know that most depressed drinkers will start to feel better within a few weeks of cutting out alcohol. So, it is usually best to tackle the alcohol first, and then deal with the depression afterwards if it has not lifted after a few weeks.
After a few alcohol-free weeks, you will probably feel fitter and brighter in your mood. Friends and family may find you easier to get on with. If your feelings of depression do lift, it’s likely that they were caused by the drinking.
If the depression is still with you after four weeks of not drinking, seek help. It may be useful to talk over your feelings, particularly if your depression seems linked to some crisis in your life. Common issues are relationship problems, unemployment, divorce, bereavement or some other loss.