Navigating Depression + Your Journey
How is it treated?
Depression is an ailment that can be treated through a multitude of avenues. There are many therapeutic modalities that help depression, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and “talk” therapy. Lifestyle changes can ease symptoms of depression, and there are also many highly effective medications that can treat depression. If you think you may be dealing with a depressive episode, consider reaching out to your primary care doctor for a referral to a therapist and/or psychiatrist.
How does depression play into alcohol use and discontinuing habitual alcohol use?
As with many mental illnesses and alcohol use disorder, it can be difficult to determine which came first, and how much they have an impact on each other. Because alcohol creates such a quick state-change, it may be used to alleviate symptoms of depression if someone is experiencing a depressive episode and is not receiving treatment. Alternatively, alcohol is a literal depressant, and it alters brain chemistry with both short- and long-term use. You can see how this can turn into a vicious cycle of depression > alcohol use > worsening depression > worsening alcohol use.
Additionally, if we have been using alcohol habitually for some time, our brain has ceased to produce normal levels of dopamine (the feel-good brain chemical) on its own because it has been receiving artificial spikes of dopamine from alcohol. Our pleasure baseline has also been bumped up, meaning it takes more and more dopamine to reach the threshold where we feel good. All of these mechanisms can yield a form of depression after cessation of alcohol use called “anhedonia,” or an inability to feel pleasure. This experience will alleviate with time and continued abstinence from alcohol, but can certainly be surprising if you aren’t prepared for it.
The takeaway here is that depression, as with many mental health illnesses, is inextricably intertwined with alcohol use and our journey to live an alcohol-free life. It’s not inevitable, to be certain, but if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, know that you are not alone and this is common. And you don’t have to tough it out alone; there are so many medical and mental health professionals who can help you through this.
If you or someone you know has thoughts of self-harm, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
American Psychiatric Association. (2020, October.) What is Depression? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression
National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, February.) Major Depression. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml