Alcohol is often used as a crutch for our emotional turmoils. Whether it’s a bad break-up, tough times at work, stressful holidays, or just a bad day, many people choose to have a large glass of red wine, a few too many beers, a trip out to the bar to deal with these feelings.
But at what point does getting a drink after a bad day become an issue? At what point does one beer once and a while become seven on a regular basis?
Another important question is whether this drinking is actually helpful at all. Could binge drinking be making your depression worse? We are going to go over all of the information you need to know about alcohol induced depression so you can start making healthier choices.
What Is Binge Drinking?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, binge drinking is defined by having a BAC (blood alcohol content) of 0.08 g/dL. This usually is the result of having 4-5 servings of alcohol in a relatively short period of time.
This is a bit abstract, so let’s look at some real-life examples of what would constitute binge drinking. College days of taking 2 shots before chugging 3 beers would be one example.
Another example would be coming home after work and downing a six-pack of Buds. Or it could be 4 glasses of wine at a family dinner.
However you get to that point of 4-5 drinks within a short period of time, it is defined as binge drinking.
While this might seem harmless (who hasn’t wanted to get drunk on certain occasions?), there are serious risks to this kind of heavy drinking. These include:
- Alcohol dependence
- Increased risk of chronic illnesses (heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, etc)
- Cancer risk increased
- Increased risk of STDs and unwanted pregnancies
- Violent behavior
- Memory issues
Notice that alcohol induced depression and worsening depression is a risk factor of binge drinking. We will come back to this later.
What Is Depression?
Depression is an umbrella term for a number of depressive mental health disorders. Depression is actually one of the most common mental illnesses affecting over 16 million people in the United States every year.
A number of factors can cause someone to be depressed. This could include biological factors, chemical imbalances, personal experiences/situations, social factors, and more.
Some of the major symptoms of depression include:
- Consistent sadness/feeling down
- Too much and/or too little sleep
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
- Reduced sex drive
- Low energy
These symptoms are common for each type of depressive mood disorder. These including seasonal depression, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and persistent depressive disorder.
Binge Drinking and Depression
Now that we know what binge drinking and depression are separate, let’s consider how they affect each other.
Alcohol Is a Depressant
Alcohol is a drug categorized as a depressant. This means that alcohol interacts with the chemicals in your body and your brain to “depress” function. It slows things down, lowers your inhibitions, etc.
But long-term and heavy drinking can lead to an alcohol induced depression. Consistent heavy drinking can actually lower the amount of serotonin, the “happiness” chemical, in your brain.
Low serotonin levels are directly linked to depressive disorders.
This phenomenon is especially true if you already have a depressive disorder. Drinking has been shown by multiple scientific studies to make depression worse. So while not everyone will have an alcohol induced depression, alcohol can definitely induce a worsening condition.
Binge Drinking and Depression
It isn’t surprising information, is it? We all know of people who use alcohol to deal with their emotions. It is even portrayed as normal and funny on sitcoms and other forms of media.
But the fact is that using alcohol as a way to self-medicate when you’re sad can and will backfire: alcohol induced depression is real and, unfortunately, seen often in our society.
Just look at this study: researchers looked at rates of binge drinking and depression in college students. They found that rates of both depression and binge drinking are significantly and positively correlated in first-year college students.
It’s no coincidence that when people are heavily binge drinking, their rates of depression also skyrocket.
Effects of Binge Drinking Worsen Depression
Some people drink to get that “buzz,” to lower their inhibitions, and to let loose. Unfortunately, many of these effects are heightened when binge drinking, which can lead to impulsive and bad decisions.
We already mentioned that binge drinking increases your risk of participating in violent behavior, of getting an STD, and worsening chronic illnesses. Combine these effects with impulsive decisions that could cause a car accident, an injury, a loss of your job, or a break-up with your partner, and it is easy to see how binge drinking can result in a worsened depression.
It’s estimated that one-third of people suffering from a depressive disorder also have an alcohol problem. When somebody has a diagnosis of depression along with a diagnosis of an alcohol problem like binge drinking, it is called a dual diagnosis.
Oftentimes, when people have a dual diagnosis of this nature, it is hard to say which condition appeared first. These two types of disorders are so closely intertwined and they actually feed off of each other.
Alcohol induced depression because of binge drinking is common, but depression can also induce a drinking problem. These two disorders, depression and binge drinking, become a sort of vicious cycle.
You drink because you’re depressed, but the drinking itself makes the depression worse, which leads to more drinking, etc, etc.
How to Deal with Alcohol Induced Depression
If you think that you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol induced depression, there are steps you can take to get out of this vicious cycle.
One step that many people take is to find rehab centers near them. Especially if you have a dual diagnosis, rehab is an excellent option. At a rehab center, you can get individual behavioral therapy to help treat your depression while also focusing on getting sober in a safe environment.
If you feel that you can deal with these issues on your own, then your first step would be to significantly cut back on your drinking. If you feel you can properly control yourself, limit yourself to 1 or 2 drinks in a single setting.
However, we know from the information earlier that binge drinkers often develop an alcohol dependence, also called alcoholism. For this reason, it might be hard, or impossible, for you to only drink in moderation.
If this is the case, you should stop drinking altogether. This is easier said than done, which is where rehab centers and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can be helpful resources.
Adjust Your Drinking Behavior
Alcohol induced depression is often a result of using alcohol as a treatment for when you’re feeling sad or down. This will feed into the vicious cycle of drinking and depression that we talked about earlier.
Try not to drink when you’re feeling sad or have had a bad day. This will only serve to make you feel worse and feed into your depression. If you are going to drink, make sure it is in moderation and not as an emotional crutch.
Maintain a Support System
Both depression and alcohol use disorders can result in feelings of hopelessness and isolation. It’s important to remember that you are not alone.
Maintain your close relationships, whether that’s with a significant other, with family members, or with your friends. This will help you as you struggle with a tough journey of controlling your drinking and treating a depressive disorder.
You can also join support groups that will help keep you on track and give you a great support system of people who understand exactly what you’re going through.
Deal with Your Depression
Controlling your drinking is only half the battle when it comes to alcohol induced depression: you also have to deal with your depressive disorder.
Treating depression, especially when coupled with an alcohol use disorder, is complicated.
Treatment will vary based on the individual and what works best for you.
You’ll probably be advised to stop drinking, which we’ve already gone over.
Therapy is a great method for dealing with a number of different depressive disorders. Therapy will help you discuss any specific factors causing your depression, and therapists will be able to help you adjust your thought patterns and your behaviors.
Binge Drinking and Alcohol Induced Depression: Wrapping Up
Binge drinking might be portrayed as cool and fun, but the fact of the matter is that is can cause significant damage to both your physical and your mental health. Dealing with both your depression and your binge drinking will only serve to make you a healthier and happier individual.
Check out our other articles about maintaining proper health and fitness.