Many people use alcohol to “feel better”, however, the paradox is that in reality, alcohol has an opposite, negative effect on someone’s state-of-mind. In fact, alcohol is a depressant that can cause depression in the drinker, especially when consumed in large quantities and over a long period of time. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published a study confirming this by stating that alcohol-dependent individuals are 3.7 times more likely to have major depression than those that are not alcohol-dependent. Furthermore, for those that had alcohol dependence, the prevalence rate for an independent major depressive disorder was 20.5%. Therefore, although alcohol is often used to self-medicate depressive thoughts and behavior, it in turn can cause the depression within the individual to worsen.

The Side Effects Alcohol Has on the Body

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it slows down vital functions in the body, particularly inhibiting the function of the central nervous system (CNS). CNS depressants, like alcohol,  reduce brain activity and awareness by blocking messages from nerve receptors to the brain. This, thereby, affects the individual’s judgements, perceptions, movements, emotions, and senses. As an individual consumes alcohol, their inhibitions will be lowered and their judgment and reaction times will be slower, especially if consuming large quantities of alcohol.  

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As consumption increases, clumsiness, exaggerated emotions and behaviors, a decrease in fine motor skills are likely to happen and other signs of intoxication will likely appear, such as:

  • Skin flushing
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Slower brain activity
  • Sleepiness
  • Mood swings
  • Dulled visual and hearing perception
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of coordination
  • Raised blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reduced core body temperature
  • Stumbling
  • Passing out
  • Vomiting
  • Shallow, irregular, or slow breathing

As the list includes more immediate, short-term results of overconsumption of alcohol, there are other long-term health risks associated with alcohol abuse. Such health risks include: liver damage, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mental illness.

Alcohol and Depression

Individuals struggling with depression may often find themselves coping with alcohol because it can initially make them feel quite pleasant by relaxing them and putting them at ease. However, when alcohol is misused or abused, the consequences for the user can be devastating, even life-threatening. Since alcohol reduces serotonin in the brain, the chemical responsible for well-being and happiness, the user is put at a much higher risk of developing depression or aggravating their already coexisting depression. As such, since depression and alcohol addiction can often go hand-in-hand, it is essential that a person struggling with an alcohol addiction and depression address both disorders in order to transition from addiction to sobriety.

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Treating Alcohol Abuse and Depression

When seeking help for an alcohol addiction, it is essential that any symptoms of depression are also addressed. As such, if only one disorder is addressed, the chances of returning to alcohol or other coping mechanisms is much greater. Furthermore, because alcohol abuse and depression are complex disorders, it is imperative that one seeks help from a trained medical professional that can safely detox the user off of alcohol while addressing the depression at the same time. In many cases, getting inpatient or outpatient help at a treatment center can help set someone on the right foot for lifelong sobriety through integrating a 12-step program, counseling, and other forms of therapy. With the right support groups and medical and clinical guidance, you or a loved one can finally live the life of sobriety that he/she needs and deserves.

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