The Link between Alcohol Use and Depression

With the holidays over, a number of us have likely consumed more alcohol than we typically do.  January is also a month that statistically shows a higher level of alcohol consumption than other months because of its tendency to be dark and cold.  Many people have trouble finding the energy or will power to go out and do the activities that they would do if it was warmer.  The following are points to be aware of if you have depression or depressive symptoms and you notice your drinking habits are changing:

  • Approximately one-third of people who have major depression also have a tendency to consume alcohol to an unhealthy level. 
  • Men are more likely to experience an increase in their drinking, which then leads to depression.
  • Women are almost twice as likely to start drinking heavily, when compared to men, if they already have a history of depression. 
  • Men who abuse alcohol are three times more likely to be depressed than the general population and women who abuse alcohol are four times more likely to be depressed.
  • Drinking will only make your depression worse by increasing the levels of negative emotions experienced and by making antidepressant medications less effective.

Alcohol is a depressant that reduces arousal and excitability levels in your body, although this may not seem to be the case when you are drinking.  Self-medication is a term used by many to describe a cycle of temporarily easing symptoms in an unhealthy way.  Drinking alcohol to cope with different sets of symptoms, including depression, is often a way that people rationalize the frequency and intensity of their drinking habits.  Unfortunately, this can turn into a downward spiral that causes more problems and can lead to a level of destruction. 

  • Using alcohol can be a way to avoid symptoms, as opposed to treat them, which does not improve your long-term situation.
  • People typically make choices and act in ways when under the influence that they would not soberly, causing them to feel badly or beat themselves up afterwards.
  • When intoxicated, people have less self-control and are more impulsive.  This gives a person an opportunity to agree to things that they otherwise would not, making a potentially dangerous environment for someone who is depressed.  Suicidal ideation and intent can increase as a result when drinking.
  • Binge drinking can begin to cause difficulties in relationships with friends and family, work, and financial stability.  All of these negative life circumstances, when made a reality, will encourage depression.

Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a two hour time period.  Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 15 or more drinks weekly, for men, and eight or more drinks weekly, for women.  The important thing to remember is that these points are not referencing levels of occasional or social drinking.  However, if you notice that you find yourself in any of these mentioned categories, can identify as a heavy or binge drinker, and are noticing a negative change in your mood that intensifies while drinking or after a drinking episode, considering treatment may be a positive step for your own wellness.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD