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Alcohol and Mental Health

Alcohol Misuse and Depression: What’s the Connection?

Published:
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read

The day's stresses are piling up, and everything feels a bit too heavy. You're drained, feeling lower than low, and yearning for some form of solace. That's when you hear it: the soft chime of ice hitting glass, the tempting glug of a rich, amber liquid pouring out. You reach out, pick up the glass, and take a sip. 

A sense of calm washes over you. You find yourself reaching for a second glass, and then a third. The world, once so loud and chaotic, seems a bit quieter now. This ritual might feel like a balm on some nights, but when it becomes a pattern, it's more than just a way to relax. It becomes a pathway that can lead us down a much darker and lonelier road — the road to causing or exacerbating symptoms of depression. 

What Is Depression?

Depression is a common and serious mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It goes beyond feeling upset or down in the dumps. Depression is characterized by prolonged periods of intense sadness, a palpable lack of interest in activities once enjoyed, and an overarching feeling of emptiness that can seep into every corner of a person's life. Symptoms vary, but they generally include enduring feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide. 

It's crucial to understand that experiencing depression isn't a sign of weakness; it's a serious health condition that deserves attention and care. The silver lining here is that depression is treatable. Various treatment options are available, such as medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. 

Diagram about the alcohol depression loop

Alcohol’s Connection to Depression

Alcohol, often called the ultimate social lubricant, can transform into a silent predator when misused. 

Alcohol misuse refers to a pattern of drinking that harms a person's health, their interpersonal relationships, or their ability to work. Scientific research paints a compelling picture of the relationship between alcohol misuse and depression. For some people battling depression, drinking feels like a form of self-medication. However, instead of alleviating the symptoms, alcohol often intensifies them, creating a vicious cycle that's incredibly hard to break. 

What causes depression and alcohol use disorder? Several studies have shown that alcohol misuse could lead to depression due to its impact on neurotransmitters, the brain's chemical messengers. These neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin and dopamine, play a significant role in mood regulation.

The relationship between alcohol use and depression also works in reverse: depression can indeed lead to alcohol misuse. When people are grappling with depression, the urge to escape or numb their relentless emotional pain can be overwhelming. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol might provide temporary relief. However, it can ultimately magnify the symptoms of depression and even pave the way to dependency or misuse. A 2009 study published in Addiction underscored this link, finding that adults suffering from depression were far more likely to binge drink.

Alcohol Misuse and Depression: What Can We Do?

Armed with this knowledge, what's the next step? How can we steer clear of this dangerous intersection of alcohol misuse and depression? One answer lies in prevention and the practice of mindful drinking. Mindfulness means being fully present, aware of where we are, what we're doing, and how it impacts us and those around us. When applied to alcohol, mindfulness involves knowing your limits, recognizing why you're drinking, and ensuring alcohol doesn't become an emotional crutch.

Furthermore, if you’re struggling with symptoms of depression, please reach out to a medical or mental health professional for help. They can provide appropriate treatment for alcohol misuse and depression, such as therapy and/or medication. With the proper treatment, the likelihood of falling into maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as excess alcohol consumption, is much lower. This also lowers the risk of other health issues, such as liver damage, heart disease, and even cognitive decline. 

Alcohol Misuse and Depression: The Takeaways

The connection between alcohol misuse and depression is intricate. Alcohol might feel like an easy escape, but it's a deceptive one — it only pulls people further into the heart of the storm, into the core of depression. The journey to recovery may be arduous and seemingly endless, but it's a journey worth embarking on.

We're all in this together, maneuvering our way through life. Together, we can ensure that our stories are defined not by our struggles but by our resilience, by our capacity to rise above the challenges and emerge stronger on the other side.

Everyone's journey to recovery is unique. It does no good to compare our journey with those of other people. While it may take time and patience, each small step forward is a victory in itself.

The day's stresses are piling up, and everything feels a bit too heavy. You're drained, feeling lower than low, and yearning for some form of solace. That's when you hear it: the soft chime of ice hitting glass, the tempting glug of a rich, amber liquid pouring out. You reach out, pick up the glass, and take a sip. 

A sense of calm washes over you. You find yourself reaching for a second glass, and then a third. The world, once so loud and chaotic, seems a bit quieter now. This ritual might feel like a balm on some nights, but when it becomes a pattern, it's more than just a way to relax. It becomes a pathway that can lead us down a much darker and lonelier road — the road to causing or exacerbating symptoms of depression. 

What Is Depression?

Depression is a common and serious mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It goes beyond feeling upset or down in the dumps. Depression is characterized by prolonged periods of intense sadness, a palpable lack of interest in activities once enjoyed, and an overarching feeling of emptiness that can seep into every corner of a person's life. Symptoms vary, but they generally include enduring feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide. 

It's crucial to understand that experiencing depression isn't a sign of weakness; it's a serious health condition that deserves attention and care. The silver lining here is that depression is treatable. Various treatment options are available, such as medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. 

Diagram about the alcohol depression loop

Alcohol’s Connection to Depression

Alcohol, often called the ultimate social lubricant, can transform into a silent predator when misused. 

Alcohol misuse refers to a pattern of drinking that harms a person's health, their interpersonal relationships, or their ability to work. Scientific research paints a compelling picture of the relationship between alcohol misuse and depression. For some people battling depression, drinking feels like a form of self-medication. However, instead of alleviating the symptoms, alcohol often intensifies them, creating a vicious cycle that's incredibly hard to break. 

What causes depression and alcohol use disorder? Several studies have shown that alcohol misuse could lead to depression due to its impact on neurotransmitters, the brain's chemical messengers. These neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin and dopamine, play a significant role in mood regulation.

The relationship between alcohol use and depression also works in reverse: depression can indeed lead to alcohol misuse. When people are grappling with depression, the urge to escape or numb their relentless emotional pain can be overwhelming. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol might provide temporary relief. However, it can ultimately magnify the symptoms of depression and even pave the way to dependency or misuse. A 2009 study published in Addiction underscored this link, finding that adults suffering from depression were far more likely to binge drink.

Alcohol Misuse and Depression: What Can We Do?

Armed with this knowledge, what's the next step? How can we steer clear of this dangerous intersection of alcohol misuse and depression? One answer lies in prevention and the practice of mindful drinking. Mindfulness means being fully present, aware of where we are, what we're doing, and how it impacts us and those around us. When applied to alcohol, mindfulness involves knowing your limits, recognizing why you're drinking, and ensuring alcohol doesn't become an emotional crutch.

Furthermore, if you’re struggling with symptoms of depression, please reach out to a medical or mental health professional for help. They can provide appropriate treatment for alcohol misuse and depression, such as therapy and/or medication. With the proper treatment, the likelihood of falling into maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as excess alcohol consumption, is much lower. This also lowers the risk of other health issues, such as liver damage, heart disease, and even cognitive decline. 

Alcohol Misuse and Depression: The Takeaways

The connection between alcohol misuse and depression is intricate. Alcohol might feel like an easy escape, but it's a deceptive one — it only pulls people further into the heart of the storm, into the core of depression. The journey to recovery may be arduous and seemingly endless, but it's a journey worth embarking on.

We're all in this together, maneuvering our way through life. Together, we can ensure that our stories are defined not by our struggles but by our resilience, by our capacity to rise above the challenges and emerge stronger on the other side.

Everyone's journey to recovery is unique. It does no good to compare our journey with those of other people. While it may take time and patience, each small step forward is a victory in itself.

Take Charge of Your Well-Being With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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