So you muster up the strength to stop drinking, but now your depression symptoms get worse.
Alcoholism and depression occur together often. People who struggle with alcohol abuse may become depressed as a result of the drinking. Many problems result from the alcohol use problem. These might include losing a job, getting a divorce, or dealing with legal issues.
On the other hand, those who battle depression may find that alcohol helps suppress the symptoms, at first anyway. No matter the order of onset, these are both serious mental health disorders. When they co-occur they present unique treatment challenges.
It is easy to see why someone with depression might turn to alcohol in an effort to numb their pain. Sadly, this can soon turn against them. As tolerance rises, so does the amount of drinking. This can result in chemical dependence. Many people caught up in this vicious cycle struggle when quitting alcohol, as they see the depression after quitting drinking symptoms get worse.
When the symptoms of depression last more than two weeks, it is called a depressive episode. The DSM-5 calls it depression when a cluster of five or more of the following symptoms occurs. The symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness and despair that persist most of the time.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Slowed motor and cognitive functions.
- Sleep problems.
- Sudden weight loss or gain.
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities once enjoyed.
- Feelings of guilt or shame.
- Finding it difficult to make decisions or pay attention.
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
A doctor will first check the person’s health status to rule out a medical condition. Sometimes a health problem can cause depression symptoms. If no health issue is found, the diagnosis of depression is made.
About Alcohol Use Disorder
Learning to notice the signs of an alcohol problem can lead to earlier treatment and a better outcome. Based on the number of symptoms present, the individual will be diagnosed with a mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorder. These symptoms include:
- Not able to control the amount of alcohol consumed.
- Not able to quit or limit alcohol intake.
- Strong alcohol cravings.
- Increased tolerance leading to more drinking
- Ignoring obligations.
- Loss of interest in hobbies or social events.
- Continue drinking in spite of negative effects.
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors while drinking.
- Having withdrawal symptoms when effects wear off.
Two to 3 symptoms mean a mild AUD, 3-4 symptoms moderate AUD, and 5 or more indicate a severe AUD.
Depression and Alcohol Abuse Together
Although depression can co-occur with any substance of abuse, there is a strong pairing between depression and alcohol abuse. Alcohol will depress the central nervous system. It can slow its functions as well as that of the nerve cells. Because alcohol can make you feel relaxed, someone with depression may seek it out.
About 20% of alcoholic adults also suffer from depression, according to an article in the Psychiatric Times. An article from the NIAAA explains that it is common for people to develop depression due to heavy alcohol abuse. It can impact brain function and alter the neurotransmitters.
Can someone get depression after quitting alcohol? When quitting alcohol, depression symptoms may ramp up and present a serious mental health threat. Without alcohol to numb the effects of depression, the person may find the symptoms just too much. This can increase the risk of suicide.
High Suicide Rates of Alcoholism and Depression
People with comorbid depression and alcohol problems have an increased risk of suicide. The SAMHSA states that about 32% of all suicides involved individuals with blood alcohol limits at or above the legal limit. Also, it found that 50% of those who took their own life had suffered from depression.
One study reports the lifetime risk of suicide among alcoholics is 10%-15%. As well, it found that depression and alcoholism were comorbid in 85% of 100 suicides.
Alcohol addiction creates a 10-fold higher risk for suicide as compared to the general public. Because of the much higher risk for suicide, people with both depression and alcohol use disorder need specialized treatment. Both disorders should be treated at the same time.
Getting Help for Alcoholism and Depression
Whether someone obtains treatment at an outpatient or residential program depends largely on how severe their problem is.
Outpatient programs offer treatment while the client is free to reside at home. This allows the person to keep working and fulfill family duties during the treatment program. These programs are best suited for mild to moderate alcohol use disorders.
Residential treatment programs involve residing at the treatment center for a certain period of time. Residential programs are the best treatment option for a moderate to severe alcohol problem. This is because these programs provide medical detox and also 24/7 support.
Dual diagnosis treatment includes:
- Medical detox. Detox lasts 5-7 days on average, with withdrawal symptoms and vital signs closely watched. During the detox there will be help provided to reduce pain and discomfort.
- Psychotherapy. Therapy is a core treatment element for both the depression and the alcohol problem. CBT provides a blueprint for making changes in thoughts and action patterns. The coping skills learned in CBT helps clients reframe their thoughts, which leads to healthy actions.
- Group therapy. Meeting with peers or family members to discuss recovery topics can help the healing process. Groups are a source of peer and family support to help process the depression as well.
- Twelve Step. The recovery meetings provide social support and a chance to make new sober friendships. The meetings can help people build a new sober lifestyle.
- Holistic activities. Rounding out rehab are several activities that enhance the basic therapies. These include mindfulness, yoga classes, massage, art therapy, and outdoor therapy.
When an individual is committed to a sober lifestyle, both alcohol use disorder and depressive disorder are highly treatable. People that stay the course and keep up with aftercare can reclaim their lives and enjoy a fulfilling future.
LifeSync Malibu a Leader in Addiction Recovery Los Angeles
LifeSync Malibu is a premier treatment program that uses the most recent evidence-based techniques. The team at LifeSync Malibu is ready to guide you on your recovery journey, partnering with you every step of the way. If you are quitting alcohol and have seen your depression symptoms get worse, reach out to us! Connect with us today at (866) 491-4426.