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What Causes Depression After Drinking?

Alcohol is a depressant, but that is not the sole reason why people may feel depressed after a night of drinking.

Drinking alcohol alters brain chemistry and affects the central nervous system (CNS). It triggers dopamine release, leading to a stimulating effect by activating reward centers in the brain. However, this effect is short-lived. When alcohol binds to GABA receptors in the brain, the initial feeling may be pleasant, but that does not last long. As blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises, the body begins to experience more depressive symptoms. 

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According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), depression can be diagnosed if an individual exhibits one or more of the following symptoms for a minimum of two weeks:

  • Sadness
  • Reduced interest in activities
  • Erratic or disrupted sleep patterns
  • General fatigue
  • Feeling worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Guilt

Heavy drinking alone will not always lead to alcohol-induced depression the next morning. It also depends partially on why the individual drank in the first place. While the effects of alcohol can potentially trigger feelings of depression on its own, it often exacerbates symptoms indirectly.

Those who drink alcohol because they are unhappy will still feel that way once the effects of alcohol wear off. Pre-existing anxiety disorders can also be quieted by drinking, but they will return after intoxication abates, often stronger than before. 

Alcohol can worsen negative emotions, causing those with depression or underlying mental health issues to feel even worse. It also lowers inhibitions, which could lead to a flood of suppressed emotions rushing to the surface. This could potentially overwhelm an unsuspecting or unprepared individual. As a result, a dangerous cycle can develop, which is when a person may drink to suppress these emotions only to find them fully surfaced the following morning.

Can Binge Drinking Cause Depression?

Binge drinking is capable of causing depression, especially if binge drinking turns into an ongoing problem. Alcohol itself can trigger feelings of depression, and this is heightened if the individual is predisposed to experiencing depression or while dealing with acute traumas. 

Both binge drinking and depression feed into each other, with one continually worsening the other’s symptoms. Negative consequences can potentially build, leading to increased chances of facing both issues. 

This is often the case with concurrent mental health and substance abuse issues. It is extremely common for patients to treat uncomfortable mental health symptoms with alcohol, despite the fact that alcohol is a depressant. Many people believe that drinking will alleviate depression, even though the opposite is true.

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When Should I Be Concerned? 

Everybody is different, but when you regularly turn to alcohol as the primary way to manage negative feelings, there may be cause for concern. This may also prevent you from seeking other solutions to help you address these feelings more productively.

There are other times to be concerned as well. If your drinking leads to Increased anger, it might cause undesirable outcomes, like fighting with loved ones or being socially ostracized. Such an event could lead to self-loathing and intense depression symptoms, which could become even worse if you also turn to alcohol to treat them. This vicious cycle could lead to alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) or worse.

Dangers of Drinking Alcohol With Depression

Drinking alcohol while suffering from depression is extremely dangerous. On top of the adverse effects that can be experienced by either of these on their own, the combination could lead to extreme despair and potential self-harm (especially if you are on antidepressants). 

How Does Alcohol Make Depression Symptoms Worse?

Further problems may also arise from not getting professional help for depression in the form of counselling or using antidepressants. Continuing to use alcohol as a means of self-medication could ruin your career and personal relationships, which would likely cause depression to worsen and drinking to increase in turn. 

If an individual begins to regularly abuse alcohol, physical dependence and addiction are likely to follow shortly after. 

How to Manage Alcohol-Induced Depression

If depression occurs after a night of drinking, there are several things that you can do to try and feel better.

Try not to blame yourself

When you already feel depressed, blaming yourself can make matters significantly worse. It may seem easier to keep drinking until alcohol dulls the feeling again, but this will only make you feel much worse later. Instead, focus on what could be done next time to ensure things are different.

Drink plenty of water

Alcohol causes dehydration, which can lead to hangover symptoms on top of depression. The added head pain, body aches, and nausea may exacerbate the feeling of depression further.

Consuming water will not alleviate the symptoms of depression directly, but getting rehydrated will aid in helping you to feel better physically, which can help your overall sense of wellbeing. 

With hangover symptoms lessening, you may also see an emotional improvement as well. At the very least, it will be easier to address your feelings of depression if you do not have to worry about physical ailments in addition to mental ones. 

Take a walk

Exercise has the ability to boost your mood as the effects of alcohol begin to wear off. Being outside in nature can also provide similar mood-enhancing benefits, especially if the sun is shining. 

Getting out for a nice walk, with fresh air and a little movement, is one of the best possible ways to manage alcohol-induced depression. If you are able to move a little faster and burn some calories, the combined effect of sunshine and exercise can release serotonin and dopamine, which helps to improve depression symptoms further. 

You could also practice yoga or another low-intensity activity outside to achieve similar effects. 

Keep your mind busy

This could be as simple as gardening, taking on home projects, cooking, reading, or even doing puzzles. 

It does not have to take long, as spending even a half-hour with a good book, drawing, or even looking at nature videos will provide positive distractions. Speaking with loved ones or close friends can also help alleviate depression symptoms post-drinking.

Treatment for Depression and Alcohol Abuse

There are several available options for treating depression and alcohol abuse. Inpatient and outpatient treatment centers are two medically supervised options, while healthcare professionals may also recommend pharmaceutical or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

If you or a loved one needs treatment help for depression and alcohol abuse, reach out to an addiction specialist or contact AlcoholRehabHelp. We can help you find the right treatment options for dealing with depression and alcohol use.

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Resources

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DeVido, Jeffrey J, and Roger D Weiss. “Treatment of the depressed alcoholic patient.” Current psychiatry reports vol. 14,6 (2012): 610-8. doi:10.1007/s11920-012-0314-7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712746/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental Health Conditions: Depression and Anxiety. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/depression-anxiety.html

Kuria, Mary W et al. “The Association between Alcohol Dependence and Depression before and after Treatment for Alcohol Dependence.” ISRN psychiatry vol. 2012 482802. 26 Jan. 2012, doi:10.5402/2012/482802. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658562/

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIAAA.

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