Alcohol can temporarily relieve some negative thoughts and feelings because it alters the chemistry of your brain. That’s why some use drinking as a prop to help ‘cope’ with life or stress. But over the long term, heavy drinking can magnify problems and make life more difficult.
Where alcohol dependency and mental illness are both present it adds up to a complex picture.
Some people who experience mental distress may turn to alcohol as a way of ‘self-medicating’ and this can result in dependency that may worsen their symptoms, however, alcohol is a depressant and in some cases it can be difficult to know which problem started first, and which symptoms relate to alcohol and which relate to mental health.
This kind of ‘self-medicating’ with alcohol can be counter-productive. Increased alcohol use changes the psychology of the brain and reduces its ability to deal with anxiety naturally. This can lead to more alcohol being needed to experience the same reduction in anxiety.
Similarly with depression, levels of serotonin – a chemical in your brain that helps to regulate your mood – are depleted through regular drinking. That means feeling more depressed, and probably drinking more to deal with it. A vicious cycle.
In the long term a heavy drinker will need more and more alcohol to cope with their feelings of depression and anxiety. Long term heavy drinking changes the chemistry of the brain and there is a significant link between people who are (or have been) heavy drinkers and suicide.
See also our page on drugs and depression, it has more detailed information – remember alcohol is a drug !
NHS Choices web site, Introduction to depression – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Side Effects, Complications and Prevention.
The Depression Alliance is a leading UK charity for people with depression. Click Here to visit the web site.
Rethink, is a national mental health membership charity, that works to help everyone affected by severe mental illness recover a better quality of life. Click Here to visit their help and advice on depression.