Alcohol Can Increase Anxiety and Cause Depression
Unfortunately reaching for a drink won’t always have the effect you’re after as it is often not recognised that alcohol is a depressant, and it is this quality which in small doses acts like a relaxant.
A glass of wine after a hard day of work may well help with the process of relaxation, if quantities increase or stay relatively high feelings of depression, anxiety and stress may become harder to deal with. This is due to interference with neurotransmitters in the brain that are needed for good mental health, cognitive functioning, problem solving and emotional regulation.
Alcohol works on the brain in a neurochemical manner which suppresses cognitive functioning – our ability to think. In doing so we narrow our perception and our judgement and therefore don’t always respond to all the cues around us or review information in a realistic and meaningful way. In short our sense become blunt. If someone is prone to anxiety say and notices something that could be interpreted as threatening in their environment, they may hone in on that one point of interest and miss the other less threatening or neutral information – the surrounding context of a situation/environment. For example, we might focus on our partner talking to someone we’re jealous of, rather than notice all the other people they’ve been chatting to that evening – this is not as unusual as it might sound and overtime can have a profound affect on relationships and friendships. It is no surprise that police call outs to domestic situations are generally highly correlated to alcohol use.
Alcohol depression = a vicious cycle
As alcohol is a depressant, if someone drinks heavily and regularly they are likely to develop some symptoms of depression, as brain chemistry becomes dependent and adjusted by the constant or regular affect of alcohol in the blood. Regular drinking lowers the levels of serotonin in your brain which resultantly lowers general mood. Serotonin is responsible for regulation of mood and is the key neurotransmitter associated with modern anti depressant medication.
In Britain, people who experience anxiety or depression are twice as likely to be heavy drinkers, so there is a very strong association between mental health and alcohol misuse. For some people, the anxiety or depression came first and alcohol was a remedy to try and relieve it. For others, drinking may have been a well established indulgence and depression arose as a side effect over many years. The common theme being the relationship and association of alcohol with depression, low mood and functioning.
Drinking heavily can also affect your relationships with your family, friends or partner, for the reasons given above, or due to depression and behavior associated with alcohol. It can impact on your performance at work as well, and in combination can then quite easily lead to depression with a confusion of what is causing what, or how to untangle the many issues involved. Further, when there are complications of a mental health component and a substance misuse issue also present it may point in the direction of a dual diagnosis prognosis that requires a dual action of focus on both aspects that are affecting a persons functioning. This is a specialised and necessary requirement in many cases of presentation involving the misuse of substances and/or alcohol.
If you are in the habit of using drink to try and improve your mood or mask your depression, you may be starting a vicious cycle….. a cycle which can be difficult to stop without proper intervention from a trained professional. Unchecked anxiety or persistent low mood can create the reliance on alcohol consumption and as a result need to be addressed appropriately to bring about change.
Warning signs that alcohol is affecting your mood include: