Alcohol consumption plays a huge part of Western culture. In fact, more than nine out of ten UK adults drink alcohol to some extent. For most, alcohol consumption falls within the Government’s safe consumption guidelines of fourteen units per week. Nevertheless, there are others who regularly drink more than this. Some people drink alcohol every day while others binge drink regularly; all are consuming more than fourteen units per week and are therefore putting their mental and physical health in danger.
As alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it can induce a feeling of warmth and relaxation; many people, for example, reach for a glass of wine when feeling tense or stressed out. They say that alcohol helps them to feel better. However, when these individuals begin drinking more and more alcohol, they may start to notice problems, particularly with their health.
The question of ‘is there a link between alcohol and depression?’ is one that has been bandied about for a long time. In fact, there are actually hundreds of illnesses connected to excess alcohol consumption – depression is one of them.
How are Alcohol and Depression Linked?
When people feel down or depressed, they may be tempted to drink alcohol because it certainly helps to lighten their mood; at least in the early days. Although it may initially feel as though alcohol is making life better, it never stays that way. The reality is that alcohol tends to exacerbate the symptoms of depression, and it can even cause them in some individuals.
The nature of alcohol is to depress the central nervous system. This means that it will decrease excitability and arousal levels, and it is because of this that there is a strong link between alcohol and depression. Suicide and self-harm are much more common in those who also struggle with alcohol problems.
Regular abuse of alcohol leads to problems in the brain. It can affect this organ’s chemistry, and scientists believe that it is an imbalance of chemicals that causes depression in the first place. So how are the two linked? Well, in some people, excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the balance of chemicals in the brain, causing them to suffer with depression. In others who already have a chemical imbalance in the brain, alcohol may be abused to relieve the symptoms of depression or anxiety.
As alcohol becomes more of a problem, many areas of a person’s life will be affected. Health will almost certainly suffer, as will relationships with loved ones. In addition, finances can be hit when every spare penny is spent on alcohol. This can lead to arguments with family members, which can then result in more episodes of depression.
What are the Symptoms of Depression
Many different symptoms are associated with depression, including:
- low energy levels
- sleep problems
- feeling deep sadness or unhappiness
- feeling as though life is not worth living
- losing all hope for the future
- feeling guilty about things that happened in the past
- trouble concentrating
- physical aches and pains
- abuse of mood-altering substances such as alcohol.
How Alcohol Can Make Depression Worse
Those who are depressed often self-medicate with alcohol, which can make the symptoms of depression worse. For example, if the person drinks alcohol to the point of inebriation, he or she is more likely to do things not normally done when sober. This could result in them waking up feeling ashamed and guilty and will give them more things to feel depressed about.
Alcohol can cause people to act impulsively and they may be more likely to take risks when intoxicated. As well as this, the risk of suicide is much higher among those under the influence of alcohol.
What Causes Depression and Alcohol Abuse?
As there is a strong link between the two, it is not always easy to tell whether alcohol abuse caused the depression or vice versa. Studies have shown that when it comes to depression and alcohol abuse, there are several risk factors that can make it more likely for one person to be affected while another is not. For example:
- Family History – A family history of mental health problems or addiction can result in you having a higher risk of developing either condition yourself. Researchers have found that certain people have genes that make them more likely to be affected by alcohol abuse and depression.
- Emotional Trauma – Traumatic experiences can also contribute to the development of substance misuse and depression. Painful memories often lead to feelings of depression, and many people choose to drink substances such as alcohol to help relieve these feelings. Unfortunately, alcohol only provides temporary relief and tends to lead to more problems eventually.
Although having risk factors for depression and substance abuse does not guarantee that you will be affected, it does make the likelihood higher. That being said, there are some individuals who have many risk factors and never go on to have problems, while others have no risk factors and are still affected. The simple truth is that there is no single cause of addiction or substance abuse in everyone.
Treating a Dual Diagnosis
Suffering both mental health problems and substance abuse issues is referred to as having a dual diagnosis, and this is far more complex than suffering with one or other of these problems on their own. It is important that a treatment programme incorporates help for both conditions.
If you have an alcohol problem, you will more than likely require a physical detox in the first instance. Nevertheless, because of your depression, you will need careful monitoring. Quitting alcohol can result in a number of withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Your history of depression could result in you being at greater risk of developing severe symptoms, so it is important that you detox in a supervised facility. In such a facility you will be monitored at all times by experienced and fully trained staff members who can make the process more comfortable and safer. You will be at virtually no risk in such a facility. It may even be the case that with appropriate medication, the worst symptoms of detox can be prevented.
You should know that most detox programmes run for between seven and ten days. Your symptoms are likely to start off mild and progress until they reach a peak, before subsiding. Once the detox is finished, you will be ready to get started on your rehabilitation. This is the process that will address the emotional and psychological issues of both your substance abuse problems and your depression.
It used to be the case that patients with both mental health problems and substance abuse issues were treated for one illness and not the other. This often led to a return of their symptoms at a later date. It is now common for both conditions to be treated at the same time by fully trained professionals who specialise in dual diagnosis.
It is likely that any treatment programme you enter will be designed with your needs in mind. Bespoke treatment plans are the most effective way to ensure you recover from both depression and substance abuse. Your treatment plan is likely to include both individual counselling and group therapy as well as holistic treatments to improve your overall wellbeing.
You will have the choice of a residential or day care facility, but it is generally accepted that an inpatient programme is the best option for those with a dual diagnosis. Since dual diagnosis treatment is so complex, most outpatient programmes are ill-equipped to deal with it. In an inpatient facility, you will have around-the-clock care and attention and a structured and concentrated programme that is condensed over a period of between six and twelve weeks.
Here at Oasis Bradford, we offer comprehensive treatment programmes that will help you to overcome your substance abuse and mental health problems. With a team of fully trained counsellors and doctors, you can be sure you will be in safe hands.
Please contact us today for more information about our programmes. If you have ever wondered ‘is there a link between alcohol and depression?’, then we can tell you more about this and how we can help you to get better.