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Depression After Drinking

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

What Causes Depression After Drinking?

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

Despite being a depressant, in small quantities, alcohol can initially act as a stimulant as well. It initially causes your brain to release dopamine and serotonin, causing 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, resulting in "hangxiety" and "hangover depression."

Does Alcohol 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 suffering from mood disorders like depression use alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms. In fact, 20 to 60 percent of drug and alcohol dependence cases 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. Others can also quiet pre-existing anxiety disorders by drinking. However, feeling of anxiety return after intoxication fades, often stronger than before. 

Alcohol intensifies emotions and creates more imbalances in brain dopamine and serotonin concentrations. This causes 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. A person may drink to suppress these emotions, only to find them fully surfaced the following morning.

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 symptoms during the same 2-week period. At least one of the symptoms is a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.5

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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.

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, but this will only make you feel worse. Instead, focus on what you could do next time to ensure things are different.

Drink plenty of water

Alcohol causes dehydration, leading to hangover symptoms. The added head pain, body aches, and nausea can worsen feelings of depression.

Consuming water will not directly alleviate the symptoms of depression. However, rehydration can help you feel better physically and improve your overall well-being. With fewer hangover symptoms, you may also see an emotional improvement.

At the very least, addressing feelings of depression will be easier if you don't have to worry about physical and mental issues. 

Take a walk

Exercise can boost your mood as the effects of alcohol begin to wear off. Being outside in nature can provide similar mood-enhancing benefits.

Going for a nice walk outdoors is one of the best possible ways to manage alcohol-induced depression.

The combined effect of sunshine and exercise can release endorphins, improving 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

Here are some treatment options for depression and alcohol abuse.

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Healthcare professionals may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy to treat depression concurrent with alcohol use disorder. 

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.

2. Rehab

Alcohol rehab is designed to help someone with a drinking problem get their life back on track. Professionals will work with you to develop strategies to help you avoid relapse.

Just like CBT, alcohol rehab can be inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient rehab centers offer 24/7 care, while outpatient rehab programs allow people to continue living at home.

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 depression and alcohol use.

3. Medications

Medications like antidepressants have also proven effective in treating depression concurrent with alcoholism. Doctors may prescribe medication if they believe it would benefit your recovery.

If you have an alcohol use disorder and a mental health problem, you must seek help for both conditions. 

Summary

Drinking alcohol can affect your brain chemistry, which can lead to depression. Depression after drinking usually lasts 6 to 12 hours or more if you have an alcohol use disorder. 

By learning how to manage your alcohol intake, you can avoid feeling depressed after drinking.

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Updated on September 28, 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.
  6. Goldman, Heidi, and David Levine. “Is Alcohol a Depressant?health.usnews.com.

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