The link between alcohol abuse and depression has been recognised for decades. Not only can drinking trigger (or exacerbate) the symptoms of depression, but it is also known that many people turn to alcohol initially in an attempt to self-medicate symptoms of depression. It has been estimated that around 40 per cent of those abusing alcohol suffer from this mental health problem.
What is Self-Medication?
Self-medication refers to a situation where individuals attempt to deal with their own symptoms of illness by using substances that have not been prescribed by a doctor. This should be viewed as a negative practice; there is an old saying that says, ‘the doctor who treats himself has an idiot for a patient’. There are always risks and possible complications associated with any treatment, which is why expert advice is usually required. The problem is that in many cases, individuals do not even realise they are self-medicating, which is typically the case with alcohol.
It is common for many to first develop symptoms of depression during their teenage years. It is easy to dismiss these symptoms as just hormones or the stress of transitioning to adulthood. This is also the time that many first begin experimenting with alcohol. When individuals first start to use this substance, it could feel as if it is alleviating negative symptoms, which encourages the person to drink more and more.
Dangers of Self-Medicating Depression with Alcohol
Alcohol is a type of drug known as a depressant. It is probably the worst drug possible for those with depression to take as it can even cause depression in those not normally depressed. It can be the fast track to addiction because the alcohol abuse increases the depression but the person is convinced they need to keep drinking more to combat this – it becomes a vicious circle. It is also very dangerous because alcohol is involved in most suicide attempts.
It can be very hard to treat depression when people are addicted to alcohol. It can prevent antidepressants from working, and it can mean that the person is unable to benefit from therapy. It is common for those in this position to conceal the extent of their drinking, meaning it becomes very hard to treat them. The best solution is to treat the depression and substance abuse at the same time – many dual diagnosis rehabs that are able to offer this type of treatment are now available.
Depression in Recovery
Many people have been self-medicating depression for years without even realising that this is what they have been doing. When these individuals become sober, they can find it very hard to settle into recovery because of their ongoing mental health problems – in some cases, people even feel worse than when they were drinking. This is why it is vital that if you are struggling to find happiness in recovery, you speak to a doctor to see if you may be dealing with depression.
It is important to never accept medical advice from those not qualified to give it – even when they are well meaning. One of the problems for many dealing with depression in recovery is that other members of groups such as AA may suggest that it is due to not working the programme properly. This could mean that instead of getting the help they need, people end up blaming themselves for not doing recovery right. If life in recovery is too difficult, it is vital to rule out depression or some other type of mental health problem.