Depressive disorders, including major depression, are among the most prevalent mental health issues in the United States today, affecting at least 40 million adults aged 18 and up.
In 2020 alone, an estimated 14.8 million adults in the U.S. aged 18 or older are known to have at least one major depressive episode with severe impairment. This number necessarily includes depression after drug addiction and post-alcohol depression, a phenomenon that is becoming quite common.
At Discovery Institute in Marlboro, New Jersey, our team of addiction specialists provide comprehensive treatments and care for people with mental illnesses such as depression, and addictions, such as alcoholism. Post-alcohol depression fits into our continuum of care.
How is Depression and Alcohol Abuse Connected?
A popular belief for many is that alcohol helps people “drown their sorrows.” While that may be true at the moment, overall, this is a myth that needs to be debunked. Drinking copious amounts of alcohol does not help a person forget whatever is making them depressed.
Truth be told, many studies suggest alcohol exacerbates symptoms of mental health issues a person could have, including depression and anxiety disorders. There is a true connection between alcohol addiction and depression. Alcohol affects the central nervous system directly, and over time, the side effects have proven to be life-threatening.
This is mainly because alcohol is a depressant, and as such, it affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts. This is because of the effect that alcohol has on the brain, which can contribute to or worsen feelings of anxiety and sadness.
Relevant to thinking, alcohol slows a person’s cognitive abilities enough for the person to forget whatever weighs heavily on their mind. This, however, is temporary, as whatever the issue may still be lingering and build up as time goes on, sober or not.
Addiction treatment specialists see the matter differently, saying that the relationship between alcohol and depression is best described as a vicious cycle. Many people supposedly drink to deal with depression, as they see it as a form of self-medication.
While this might be true to a certain extent since alcohol consumption could impair short-term memory, the depressant effects of alcohol could also trigger a state similar to depression, or other mood disorders.
When a person who has been binge drinking for a long period of time stops drinking, the body reacts. Symptoms of mental illness and withdrawal caused as a result of not drinking are exacerbated, making post-alcohol depression difficult to overcome without professional help.
What Causes Post-Alcohol Depression?
A person may feel depressed after drinking for several reasons, from poor sleep to an underlying mental health condition. The question is, why does someone feel so depressed after drinking alcohol?
The sad reality of recovery is that even when someone appears to have achieved sobriety, the threat of a relapse is still very real, and perhaps all the more so. This is because many who have successfully kicked their drug or alcohol habit will have to contend with the emotional and psychological turmoil that comes with not being able to take substances anymore. This is best exemplified by the persistent depression felt by most people who are in recovery.
There are quite many reasons why people experience post-alcohol depression after they stop consuming alcohol. The overwhelming feeling of depression and anxiety after drinking is more common than you think and here’s why:
Chronic drug and alcohol use will inevitably change the chemistry of the brain and body. Even when the person has already spent quite some time in treatment and therapy, this chemical imbalance could take some time to fix. While the onset of the chemical imbalance does come with discomfort and unpleasantness, the person hardly feels this because they are numb out of their senses with alcohol.
Once the alcohol is gone and the person is readjusting to sobriety, however, everything that happens to the body will be felt in one way or another. One of the most typical changes that occur with chronic drug or alcohol use is how the brain releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the reward system of the body. With alcohol and drugs, the sense of reward is on demand and a person could feel good in an instant. The natural effect of dopamine, however, takes a little more time to bring back, particularly when the body’s system had been confused by the use of substances.
Alcohol might make you feel more agitated, anxious, or depressed if you already have these emotions. In actuality, experiencing worry and depression days following a binge is not rare. In these situations, attempting to relax leads to a meltdown of unfavorable feelings, which exacerbates the depressive after-effects of alcohol.
A person who is inebriated most of the time is typically numb to most sensations and emotions that people feel every day. People with depression, pre-existing or developed had alcohol as their safety blanket and now it’s no longer a viable option for them to use when they are experiencing poor mental health. With the absence of alcohol or other substances that produce similar side effects, people in recovery start to feel a flood of emotions that have gone unaccustomed to, and now have trouble processing it.
This inability to properly process the emotions could either cause the person to shut down, or withdraw into themselves, effectively simulating the self-imposed isolation that is identified with people with depression. Depending on the person, this inability to learn proper coping mechanisms and how to process emotions can make getting help and the recovery process very difficult.
One of the most crucial elements of well-being is a good night’s sleep. In actuality, insomnia alone has been associated with depression.
While alcohol may make it easier for you to fall asleep more quickly, it also interferes with REM sleep, which is when the body regenerates and restores itself. This explains why it’s typical to feel exhausted after drinking even after getting a good night’s rest. Simply, drinking alcohol deprives you of quality sleep.
Even when a person is well on the way to recovery, the path could still be quite lonely. Some relationships might still be on the mend, and other connections might not be so willing to have anything to do with the former alcoholic anymore. This kind of isolation could crush a person in mind and spirit, as life could be overwhelmingly lonely during these stressful and difficult times.
Even in situations where connections have been won back and people are willing to socialize with the former alcoholic once more, it could still be a great challenge, since most adult social activities often involve alcohol, and for a person in recovery, it is crucial to not be exposed to such temptations.
This is why many view people in recovery to be antisocial, as they try to avoid situations where they could be exposed to triggers to engage in substance use. Even if rehabilitation does come with therapy that steels their will against temptations, it is always a good idea to not tempt fate and risk relapsing.
Recovery is all about rebuilding a person’s life from the ruin caused by substance abuse. This process is already immensely difficult for anyone who has to go through it, although the more difficult portion of it is the rebuilding of relationships.
Some people become completely different people when they have had more than a little to drink. Depending on the person, this change in attitude and personality could be temporary and the person would revert to their default personality once the alcohol inebriation subsides. In other cases, the change could linger for quite a while, which often causes a rift in relationships. Having to rebuild any connections they had before could be quite challenging, and this is more than enough to make anyone feel alone and depressed.
It is not uncommon for people who were once heavy alcoholics to be seen as merely a shell of the person they once were. People who take to chronic drinking often neglect practically everything else in their life, such as work, relationships, personal health, hygiene, etc. As such, the natural outcome would be unemployment, isolation, ill health, and perhaps even homelessness.
Even one of these adverse outcomes would be enough to drive a person to depression. In many cases, those who have been in the bottle for quite some time tend to suffer from most or all of these adverse conditions. Climbing out of this kind of trouble could be the most difficult thing that anyone could do, and trying to maintain a positive outlook in life during this period could be extremely daunting.
How is Post-Alcohol Depression Treated?
There are several ways to deal with the depression a person experiences once they stop drinking alcohol. A therapist typically suggests the method based on assessments done on the patient, to determine which one would work the best, although it is not uncommon for a combination of methods to be used to help deal with the condition better.
Much like those who suffer from anxiety disorders and non-alcohol-related depression, medication is one of the more effective ways where a person could deal with the adverse effects of depression. In most cases, antidepressants are prescribed to help the patient level out the chemical imbalance that triggers the bouts of depression, significantly easing the crushing emotional weight felt by people who have the condition.
Therapy for mental illness and addiction is preferred by many in helping them deal with their psychological and emotional issues. In most cases, it helps a person experiencing a bout of depression to get whatever it is they feel off their chest, and this is mainly why talk therapy is quite effective for them. Most therapists will even go a step further and utilize more advanced talk therapy methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) where the patient is aided in realizing and understanding what it is that causes their emotional or psychological distress.
Much like the times when the person is so inebriated that they don’t feel the negative effects of alcohol abuse, certain aspects of rehabilitation also work to pre-occupy the mind and consciousness so that the person is simply too busy to focus on anything else, such as the crushing emotional weight of depression.
This is why there are many activities included in a typical rehab program, including physical activities that also help in getting the patient healthy again, and other activities that encourage the person to become creative and express themselves in other forms of media, such as painting or crafts.
Let the Discovery Institute Show You the Way to Recovery
Many describe recovery and rehabilitation as an uphill battle. While treatment programs may be challenging, the true challenge in rehab lies in allowing the process to take place and facilitating the changes needed to produce optimal results.
At Discovery Institute in New Jersey, our expert team works hard to help patients overcome the difficulties of recovery such as post-alcohol depression. Our resources such as coping and life skills have proven to motivate someone to push past all their challenges and be on the path of a true and lasting recovery. Contacting us is the first step towards a better future.
Dr. Joseph Ranieri D.O. earned his BS in Pharmacy at Temple University School of Pharmacy in 1981 and His Doctorate Degree in Osteopathic Medicine at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1991. He is Board Certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and a Diplomate of the American Board of Preventive Medicine Addiction Certification. Dr. Ranieri has lectured extensively to physicians, nurses, counselors and laypeople about the Disease of Addiction throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania since 2012.