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This is a guest post from Sharon Torres.
One of the greatest fallacies in the English language is the phrase to drown one’s sorrows. It means that drinking alcohol can help overcome depression. Well, how accurate is the truth that this phrase sells? Does drinking really help you to drown your sorrows?
I find it improbable that drinking is an effective way of dealing with depression.
Nevertheless, guess what?
The message of this phrase is so popular that it even appears in the Christian Bible! “Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more” (New International Version, Proverbs 31:7).
Do such endorsements of alcohol impact the way people deal with depression and other stressful life events? I believe they do. Because of their popularity, many young people may find themselves using drugs and abusing alcohol in the false hope of overcoming depression.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media seems to promote the self-medication agenda, which can lead to addiction. You have noticed, perhaps, that someone on television who is losing his job, experiencing a breakup, or generally living an unhappy life is likely to hit the bar for a drink.
In addition, there are many other depictions of the phrase to drown one’s sorrows in the media. All of them may have a great overall impact on the decision of some people to misuse alcohol or drugs.
I hope you are not led to thinking that you can drown your sorrows by drinking or getting high on drugs. Even if you are not, this article still may have something for you. Understanding what alcohol does to your body will help you make informed decisions about choosing to indulge or abstain. In the face of depression, that choice is even more pressing.
Here are some things you should know about alcohol and depression, and why they should not mix.
The Chemistry of the Brain
Alcohol is a depressant – a substance that reduces activity in your nervous system to make you feel more relaxed. Because of this, people may think that substances such as alcohol may lessen the symptoms of depression. At least this is what people who use alcohol to relieve stress may think.
Depression and alcohol have the brain as a common ground for their actions, so it makes sense that alcohol and depression may both profoundly affect the brain.
As a depressant, alcohol has chemicals that disrupt the balance of neurotransmitter chemicals and processes in the brain that are vital in making it work normally. By doing this, alcohol impairs the normal functioning of your thoughts, actions, and feelings. This effect differs from one person to another. For instance, some people may feel more confident about themselves when they drink. Others may feel that alcohol may make them less anxious.
It is easy to assume that increased confidence and less anxiety signify happiness. Depressed people want to feel more confident about themselves and be less anxious about things they cannot control. Drinking alcohol will only lower the activity of the part of the brain responsible for inhibition. This does not count as true recovery from depression because eventually, people will need more alcohol to achieve the pleasurable effects it once offered.
Help Overcome Depression
Depression is a common and often serious medical condition that occurs when certain neurotransmitters in the brain are out of balance. Its effects usually provide a negative impact on how you think, feel, and act. Many people fail to understand what depression really is, and are quick to brush the condition off as general moodiness or sadness.
This is far from the truth. Depression is not grief, or sadness, or bereavement. Unlike these other unhappy experiences, depression is often a prolonged decrease in mood and spirits that may last for considerable periods of time. Also, depression often comes with a severe loss of self-esteem that can create feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness.
What does the brain really have to do with depression? Well, common causes of depression include faulty mechanisms in the brain that regulates a person’s mood, stressful life events, genetics, and certain medications and medical conditions.
Scientific research has discovered that certain regions in the brain responsible for mood are different in size or activity between people with and without depression. In those findings, depressed people had a significantly smaller hippocampus on average compared to people who were not depressed. Also, depressed people produced lower numbers of neurons in the hippocampus while recording higher activity levels in the amygdala.
The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for processing long-term memory and remembering. The amygdala controls emotions such as pleasure, anger, fear, sorrow, and sexual arousal. When the hippocampus causes you to recollect an experience that triggers a fearful or anxious response, it also stirs activity in the amygdala. High activity in the amygdala may then cause a person to be sorrowful or depressed.
Knowing that alcohol can help overcome depression by making you feel more relaxed and confident, it is probably best to look for other ways to treat your depression.
These benefits of alcohol, as we have already discussed, are short-lived and may come with consequences. Like any other drug that actively affects your cognitive and mental functions temporarily, getting used to using is easy and can produce negative results.
How It Starts
Early encounters with alcohol depress the region of the brain associated with restraint. Becoming accustomed to the quasi-curative effects of the drug may lead you to rely on it to cope with your depression and anxiety. Slowly but steadily, you begin to require higher doses of alcohol to achieve the now pleasant effects that help you overcome your depression. The effects may quickly fade.
At this stage, tolerance to alcohol may occur. With continued use, you may become dependent on alcohol to function normally. This continued use may lead you further along the path to addiction.
The Alcohol-Depression Cycle
How does alcohol make depression worse? Long-term drinking will make it harder for you to deal with stress and anxiety. Heavy drinking increases the risks you suffer and continues to impair neurotransmitters in your brain.
Using high amounts of alcohol can leave you dependent or addicted, making your depression and anxiety more profound due to the effects associated with withdrawal.
It’s important to remember that alcohol may cause anxiety and depression even in individuals without a prior history of depression. These are some of its common effects. Therefore, using the drug when you are already diagnosed with depression may make your condition worse.
Alcohol Causes Problems
If depression already makes you feel negative emotions about yourself, there is a good chance that drinking alcohol may make things worse. Alcohol is known to affect relationships with loved ones, produce feelings of guilt and shame, subject a person to social stigma, and cause anxiety.
Drinking to manage your depression, therefore, puts you at risk of developing a substance abuse disorder on top of your mental health condition. This is a condition sometimes known as a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis.
It may be difficult to address your concurrent disorders. Also, while alcohol can induce depression, the reverse may also be true. That is, depression can also lead to alcoholism. You should, therefore, take care not to allow depression to lead you to drug or alcohol abuse.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Overcoming Depression
There are multiple management and recovery options available for people who struggle with depression, alcohol abuse, or both. When depression and addiction are both present in a patient, this is known as “co-occurring disorders.” This will generally lead to what is called a “dual diagnosis,” and a doctor may refer patients to any number of dual diagnosis treatment programs.
Separately, alcohol abuse and depression are common. Co-occurrence is frequent, often presenting far greater health implications than when unpaired. Conventionally, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants such as desipramine, nefazodone, and imipramine to treat your depression.
However, this first-line treatment will not necessarily impact the pattern of your alcohol use. Because of this, it’s important to consider enrolling in a detoxification facility to receive treatment for your alcohol use disorder alongside pharmacotherapy for your depression.
Some people prefer therapies that do not involve medication. Other people want to use therapy in conjunction with their medication-based treatment. In these cases, psychosocial therapies may work.
Therapies to Use
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) – MET therapy focuses on motivation to change problems such as alcohol use disorder and depression. It recognizes that an individual’s level of motivation can be influenced and that he or she can change.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – This comes after or alongside MET. It explores your problematic thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs about yourself, your future, and the world as you perceive it. CBT allows you to identify things that make you feel confident and less anxious. Using those findings, you’ll learn to develop healthier alternatives to help you achieve the same confidence and get over your depression. (Find a therapist or life coach trained in CBT, like Kirsten from Obtaining Bliss!)
- Relapse prevention therapy (RPT) – This therapy’s function is to help you overcome depression and manage the gains you made in treatment by preventing you from relapsing into alcohol abuse or depression. Effective ways to succeed with this therapy include avoiding thoughts and things that can trigger a relapse.
- Contingency management (CM) – The core principle underpinning this therapy is recognizing that substance use and abuse are associated with rewards. Recovering from substance use disorders requires supplanting those rewards with alternative rewards. Therefore, CM emphasizes strategies that promote abstinence by exchanging negatives with positives.
- Sobriety support groups – One of the most famous sobriety support groups is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Engaging in such support groups may provide environments that may have beneficial effects on your drinking patterns and psychological health. Such support groups introduce people to other recovering alcoholics who provide fellowship and advice.
Collectively, pharmacotherapies and psychosocial therapies offer recovery and management options to treat your depression and co-occurring alcohol use disorder.
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About the Author
Sharon Torres is a freelance writer who is chronicling her experiences through this thing called life. She believes if you always move forward in life then there is no need to look back. Her favorite writer is Phillip K. Dick. Visit Sharon ‘s blog at http://sharontorreswriter.blogspot.com/