Alcohol, Drugs and Depression
Drugs and alcohol tend represent a short cut to pleasure or release and a way of feeling the burdens of life recede into the distance. It’s an illusion of course and once the effects wear off the problems still remain. The relationship between alcohol, drugs, depression and anxiety states is strong. Most studies estimate 20-30 percent of people with depression, bipolar, or anxiety disorders misuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. So what’s happening and why?
Let’s first consider the direction of the relationship. Is it drugs and alcohol that causes anxiety disorders or depression in the first place? Well, they may be strong contributors but survey results also suggest that in more than two-thirds of women who suffer from depression and who are alcoholics it was the onset of major depression that preceded their drink problem. In men the results are different, where one-fifth of cases appear to experience major depression prior to becoming alcoholics. But of course not all users of alcohol are technically alcoholics.
Alcohol is easy to obtain and relatively cheap. For people with anxiety disorders and depression it is most often used as a form of self-medication. As users will attest, the when the short-lived effects wear off, even deeper depression is experienced. The temptation then is to take more. But, as with so many drugs, people develop a tolerance to alcohol over time. It means more has to be consumed to get the same effect and damage to the body starts to increase.
Drugs can alter brain function. We know this from scans that show decreased activity in the frontal lobes. Decision-making is then affected and even the experience of joy becomes blunted.
We know that in some cases the treatment of the addiction, whether drugs or alcohol, is sufficient to lift depression. For alcoholics with depression it is the combination of medication and regular and accessible social support that appears most effective.
Depression can and does arise from abuse of alcohol or drugs. The reasons people become dependent in the first place varies, but issues of low self esteem and confidence, ease of availability, peer pressure, low social and work prospects can all contribute. The recreational drug ecstasy is suspected of causing long- term damage to the serotonin system, which in turn is involved in the regulation of emotions and the onset of depression.
Depressed drinkers start to feel better within weeks of cutting out alcohol. The usual process is to tackle the alcohol first and deal with the depression second if it hasn’t resolved after a few weeks. Either way, some help, support and direction may be needed. Your family doctor can provide this, or get advice from self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous