Further reading

What is the relationship between alcohol and depression?

Those affected directly or indirectly by depression know only too well how crippling the illness can be. The main symptoms of depression include sleep problems, fear of social situations, inability to relax, incessant dwelling on problems, severe anxiety and desperate black moods. Many alcoholics will admit that they suffer from depression, but are unaware that it is related to alcohol.

Alcohol can be turned to as a crutch during depression. It can aid sleep, create a sense of competence in social situations, and ease friendly conversation. It promotes relaxation, causes problems to be forgotten momentarily and raises mood. It works instantly and does not require a prescription. Finally, it is affordable, palatable and socially acceptable.

However, like all drugs, alcohol has its side effects. First, it can be dangerously addictive. Depression sufferers, with their poor sense of self, are unlikely to care about this addiction, or to be able to do anything about it should they sense that they are becoming dependent.

Alcohol is also a known depressant. The feelings of relaxation and wellbeing it promotes are due to a general slowing down and “depressing” of the body’s systems, in particular the brain. Most cognitive responses, from reaction time to emotional responses, will be dulled.

In individuals who were not depressed when they began drinking, alcohol can cause depression. Consumption of alcohol causes an increase in dopamine levels in the brain, leading to feelings of pleasure. However, this artificial supply of dopamine results in the brain producing less naturally. When consistently stimulated into reducing dopamine by excessive alcohol intake, the brain may cease producing dopamine in response to other stimuli altogether. The result is that the addict now requires the drug just to feel “normal”; and finds no pleasure in anything other than alcohol.

Alcoholism also can lead to depression in other ways, as it negatively impacts on an individual’s life, and creates a pattern of loss that can be inevitable unless help is sought. Typically, an affected person may face losing their job, social standing, driver licence, family, home, health and dignity. It is for this reason that treatment in the form of anti-depressants (and therapy if required) is a fundamental first step in gaining control and regaining a sense of worth.

Acknowledgement: We wish to extend our thanks to LawCare UK and the Law Institute of Victoria. Much of the material contained in this section is reproduced with the permission of LawCare UK and LawCare LIV.

What’s the harm?

Alcohol is known to be a major cause of the following ailments and conditions:

  • Vitamin deficiency and malnutrition
  • Skin and facial problems
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Liver disease/cirrhosis
  • Brain damage/hallucinations/blackouts
  • Gastrointestinal disease/inflammation of the stomach, gastritis and duodenal ulcers
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Dementia/memory loss
  • Infertility/impotence and small genitals
  • Anemia/hypertension and impaired blood clotting
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Cancers of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, liver, breast and rectum
  • Stroke
  • Suicide
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Trembling hands and loss of sensation
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome in pregnant women

Excessive alcohol consumption can seriously damage your physical and mental health. But remember, your health is not the only thing suffering. Substance abuse (be it alcohol or drug) can have a huge impact on your personal life, finances, employment and the lives of those around you.

Acknowledgement: We wish to extend our thanks to LawCare UK and the Law Institute of Victoria. Much of the material contained in this section is reproduced with the permission of LawCare UK and LawCare LIV.

But I’m not an alcoholic!

Denial is common in alcoholics. It is a psychological defence mechanism used to subconsciously reject the implications of the addiction.

In addition, admitting that alcohol is the cause of their difficulties means that they must accept the guilt, shame and disgrace their drinking may have caused, and admit that problems they have encountered – such as marriage breakdown, losing a job or losing their drivers licence, were, in fact, their own fault. This is an enormous thing to have to admit and take some degree of liability for.

A person suffering from alcohol dependence may be in denial and when challenged about their drinking may typically become very defensive, irritated, annoyed and sometimes even violent. It is for this reason that one must tread lightly, not come across as judgmental and be supportive and positive about the future (with some professional assistance).

Acknowledgement: We wish to extend our thanks to LawCare UK and the Law Institute of Victoria. Much of the material contained in this section is reproduced with the permission of LawCare UK and LawCare LIV.

The importance of staying sober

Whatever method has led you to conquer your addiction to alcohol, achieving sobriety is just the first step on a lifelong path.

Most alcohol experts have found, for practical purposes, that once the “addiction switch” to alcohol is thrown “on”, it rarely turns “off”, even after years of abstinence from the drug. You cannot become complacent, and think that, after five years without a drink, you could start drinking again as a normal social drinker. You will find that you return very rapidly to the alcoholic pattern of drinking you has before you went into treatment.

Living each day free of alcohol can be a tremendous challenge, but it is necessary and certainly very possible.

The following tips have been provided to LawCare UK by alcoholics in recovery:

  • Understand that it may be necessary to lose contact with certain people. Your “friends” at the local pub weren’t necessarily friends, but drinking buddies. Your real friends will support you in your sobriety, not challenge it.
  • Think “HALT”. Do not allow yourself to get Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.
  • Make full use of you AA sponsor or a close and understanding friend. Phone or call regularly whenever you are feeling weak or falling prey to distorted thinking.
  • Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself when you make genuine mistakes, even if those involve letting others down. Accept that these things are inevitably going to happen.
  • Relapses happen. Accept them as just that – a relapse, a one-off obstacle, not the end of the road to your sobriety and new life. Start again the next day.
  • Look after yourself physically. Eat a good breakfast, don’t rush or get stressed during the day, and get to bed early.
  • Look after yourself spiritually. If it helps you, pray, meditate or read something spiritually uplifting each day.
  • If possible, let those around you know that you are in recovery and should not be offered alcohol.  If you prefer not to admit that you are an alcoholic, use another excuse to explain why you don’t drink. “I’m on antibiotics” or “I’m driving”.
  • Get out of the house, even if only to the shops, and enjoy watching life going on around you.

It is not easy to beat any addiction, or to maintain that sobriety over time. But it can be done, one day at a time, and it is well worth the effort.

Acknowledgement: We wish to extend our thanks to LawCare UK and the Law Institute of Victoria. Much of the material contained in this section is reproduced with the permission of LawCare UK and LawCare LIV.