If Alcohol Is a Depressant, Can It Make Me Feel More Depressed?

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Q.  I have depression, but when I drink alcohol I feel happier and more relaxed.  My friend tells me that alcohol is a depressant and that I shouldn't drink it because it will only make me feel more depressed.  Is he right?

A.  Contrary to what your friend seems to believe, alcohol is not called a "depressant" because it causes depression; it is called this because it depresses the central nervous system.

  This basically means that it slows down its function.  Because of this effect, people using alcohol experience a feeling of relaxation and a loss of inhibition which can be quite pleasurable and may temporarily help them to forget how depressed that they feel. 

This doesn't mean, however, that you are off the hook with your alcohol use. While drinking alcoholic beverages may make you feel better in the short term, using it to relieve your depression can be a slippery slope.   It can be very tempting to start using it on a regular basic to self-medicate your depression and that is where the problems lie.  Long-term heavy usage of alcohol can worsen your depression in several ways:

  • It can affect the chemistry of your brain, making you more prone to depression.
  • It can make you feel physically ill when you wake up with hangovers.
  • It can create difficulties with your work, friends and family.
  • It can interfere with your sleep, which in turn may worsen your depression.
  • It can worsen any health problems that you may have.
  • It can make you feel more anxious.
  • It can counteract any depression medications that you are using or create dangerous drug interactions.

As you can see, while alcohol may seem like it is helping when you first use it, it's important to be very careful that it doesn't become a crutch because it can start to work against you.

If you would like to take a quiz to determine if your alcohol use is causing you problems, you can find one at http://alcoholism.about.com/.

Sources:

"Alcohol and Depression."  WebMD.  WebMD LLC.  Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD:  September 16, 2014.  Accessed:  May 30, 2015.

"Alcohol and Depression."  Royal College of Psychiatrists.  Royal College of Psychiatrists.  Reviewed:  April 2013.  Accessed:  May 30, 2015.

"Does Alcohol Cause Depression?"  Clearview Treatment Programs.  Clearview Treatment Programs.  Accessed:  May 30, 2015.

Jacob, Mark.  "Why Alcohol and Depression Don't Mix."  Psych Central.  Psych Central.  Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.:  January 30, 2013.

"Major Depression."  ADAM Medical Encyclopedia.  MedLine Plus.  U.S. National Library of Medicine.  Updated:  March 10, 2014.  Accessed:  May 30, 2015.

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