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Depression After Drinking

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What Causes Depression After Drinking?

Alcohol abuse and mental health issues often go hand in hand. This is especially true for depression, and the reasons are complex.

Some people abuse alcohol in an attempt to fight depression. This is known as self-medication. They take alcohol to numb the symptoms, but in reality, their depression gets worse in the long run.

For others, the effects of alcohol can cause depressive symptoms, both in the short- and long-term.

Symptoms of Depression

Some depression symptoms include:

  • Sadness
  • Reduced interest in activities
  • Erratic or disrupted sleep patterns
  • General fatigue
  • Feeling worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Guilt
  • Significant weight loss without dieting
  • Weight gain

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), depression can be diagnosed in a person experiencing five or more of these symptoms during the same 2-week period. At least one of the symptoms is a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.

How Alcohol Can Cause Depression

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows down brain activity. Someone who has consumed large amounts of alcohol may appear to be stimulated at first. But later on, the person may be disoriented and incoherent.

Despite being a depressant, in small quantities alcohol initially can act as a stimulant as well. It initially causes your brain to release dopamine and serotonin, which cause feelings of satisfaction and motivation.

While this initially leads to euphoria, the effect is short-lived. As you continue to drink, these effects reverse themselves.

Later in the night and the next day, you'll become deficient in these chemicals. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

These feelings are also linked to alcohol withdrawal, which is the reason for the terms "hangxiety" and "hangover depression."

How Alcohol Can Make Depression Worse

While the effects of alcohol can potentially trigger feelings of depression on its own, it also often exacerbates symptoms indirectly.

Some people who suffer from mood disorders such as depression use alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms. In fact, 20 to 60 percent of cases of drug and alcohol dependence are linked to mood disorders like depression.4

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

Alcohol intensifies emotions and creates more imbalance in brain dopamine and serotonin concentrations, 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?

Both binge drinking and depression feed into each other. Those suffering from depression may binge drink to self-medicate. Binge drinking can also cause depression, especially if it leads to alcohol use disorder.

Negative consequences can potentially build, leading to increased chances of facing both issues. 

Alcohol's depressant effects are heightened if the individual is predisposed to experiencing depression or while dealing with acute traumas. This is often the case with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issues.

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Dangers of Drinking Alcohol With Depression

Drinking alcohol while suffering from depression is extremely dangerous.

On top of the adverse effects of either by themselves, the combination can lead to extreme despair and potential self-harm (especially if you're on antidepressants). 

How Does Alcohol Make Depression Symptoms Worse?

Further problems may also arise from not properly treating depression with counseling or antidepressants.

Continuing to use alcohol as a means of self-medication could ruin your career and personal relationships. This will likely cause the depression to worsen and drinking to increase in turn, leading to a vicious cycle.

If someone begins to regularly abuse alcohol, physical dependence and addiction are likely to follow. 

How Long Does Depression Last After Drinking

Depression from quitting alcohol is one of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal (which can be either mild or severe). It's usually felt within the first 6 to 12 hours.

The full range of alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually passes within 72 hours. However, in cases of a serious alcohol use disorder, the brain can take up to 2 years to rebalance itself.

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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 well-being. 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 don't have to worry about physical issues 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're able to move a little faster and burn some calories, the combined effect of sunshine and exercise can release endorphins, helping 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 doesn't have to take long - even a half-hour with a good book, drawing, or looking at nature videos will provide positive distractions.

Speaking with loved ones or close friends can also help alleviate depression symptoms post-drinking.

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Treatment for Depression and Alcohol Abuse

For treating depression concurrent with alcohol use disorder, healthcare professionals may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to tackle the underlying issues behind substance abuse. It's been shown to be clinically effective in treating cases involving depression.

CBT can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on the severity of the issues.

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

If you have an alcohol use disorder and a mental health problem, it's essential to seek help for both conditions. 

Updated on April 25, 2022
6 sources cited
  1. DeVido, Jeffrey J, and Roger D Weiss. “Treatment of the depressed alcoholic patient.” Current psychiatry reports vol. 14,6 : 610-8.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Mental Health Conditions: Depression and Anxiety." CDC.
  3. 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.
  4. Quello, Susan B et al. “Mood disorders and substance use disorder: a complex comorbidity.” Science & practice perspectives vol. 3,1 : 13-21. doi:10.1151/spp053113
  5. Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Depression across Three Age Cohorts.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Feb. 2019. Goldman, Heidi, and David Levine. “Is Alcohol a Depressant?health.usnews.com.
  6.  

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