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How Depression & Alcohol Feed Each Other

Is This Depression or Is it Alcohol?, How Depression & Alcohol Feed Each Other

Research shows that people with substance use disorders (SUDs) are at a high risk for developing one or more mental health conditions. Some of the most common mental health disorders that accompany SUD are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, and ADHD. In addition, people with a mental health disorder are more likely to develop a substance use disorder. When someone suffers from a mental health condition and addiction, they are diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder. Approximately 9.2 million U.S. adults have a co-occurring disorder. 

Depression is a mental health condition that commonly co-occurs with alcohol use disorder. Nearly one-third of people who have depression also misuse alcohol. Maybe the addiction triggered the depression, or maybe you began using alcohol as a way to deal with the symptoms of depression. Either way, depression and alcohol addiction need to be treated simultaneously in order to help you maintain long-term recovery. 

Is This Depression or Is it Alcohol?

Alcohol use disorder shares many of the same symptoms as depression. Alcohol is a depressant, and as such it slows down the central nervous system. In small doses, it can cause the following symptoms:

  • reduced inhibitions
  • slowed reaction time
  • impaired judgment
  • slowed breathing
  • increased risk of accident or injury

Alcohol, in any amount, can affect your mood, causing you to feel “down.” When lowered inhibitions or impaired judgment lead to behaviors you regret, that, too, can worsen symptoms of depression.

Symptoms of depression can mimic symptoms of alcohol misuse. They include

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Increased anger, irritability, and anxiety
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy 
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lethargy 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Trouble thinking, making decisions, and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideations
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

Notice any similarities to the effects of alcohol addiction? Is your insomnia because of alcohol or depression? Are you tired and sad all the time because you’re stuck in a cycle of addiction or because you have a depressive disorder?

Finding Answers – and Getting Help

In the end, it doesn’t matter so much where your symptoms originated or what causes them. What matters is that you feel hopeless and sad and are struggling to get your drinking under control. What matters is that you need treatment to break the cycle. 

When you meet with a professional treatment team, you’ll learn more about the relationship between your alcohol use and your moods. You’ll be given treatment that helps you detox from the alcohol. Detoxing on its own can improve depressive symptoms, but in most cases medication like antidepressants are also needed, at least for the short term. And in all cases, ongoing treatment is required. This may mean a stay at an inpatient hospital, where you’ll receive round-the-clock care including individual and group therapy, medication management, recreational therapy, life skills training, and other holistic treatments. 

Or, it may mean a commitment to outpatient therapy, in which you’ll experience some of the same treatments but less intensively. You’ll have some flexibility that will allow you to continue with your responsibilities at home and work. 

The advantage of an inpatient stay is that 100% of your time is devoted to your recovery, and you can get a break from demands and temptations that home may represent. The treatment team will help you determine which type of treatment will best meet your needs. 

Long-term Recovery

Maintaining your mental health and sobriety after treatment ends will require dedication to your well-being. Continued therapy, as well as a recovery support group, are especially important. You may also want to involve your family in family therapy to help improve the dynamics at home and so you can learn the best ways to support each other. 

If you need help getting started on your recovery, reach out to Miramont Behavioral Health. Our facility in Middleton, WI, offers inpatient and outpatient care to adults and adolescents. We treat a variety of psychiatric issues as well as substance use disorder. 

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About programs offered at Miramont Behavioral Health

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