Alcohol affects different people in different ways. While some people may never feel depressed after drinking, others feel sad or anxious after just one drink.
If you are prone to feeling depressed after drinking, you may be wondering why. This blog offers some insight into the physical and chemical explanations behind the effect, as well as some tips on how to reduce or stop drinking.
Why Get Depressed After Drinking?
There are a few different ways that alcohol may leave you feeling depressed.
Alcohol Affects Your Brain Chemistry
Experts usually classify drugs – substances that have a physiological effect on the body – into several different categories according to the way they affect us. Some typical categories are:
Alcohol falls into the category of depressant. Depressants work by slowing down activity in our brain and central nervous system, making us feel calmer and more relaxed.
The term depressant relates to how these drugs slow things down, rather than referring to a depressed mood. However, depressants can disrupt your brain chemistry, impacting your mood and leading to feelings of depression.
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Brain Chemistry?
Our brains usually function with a delicate balance of chemicals that regulate our moods and behaviors. Even small changes to this balance can have pronounced effects, affecting our thinking patterns and emotions.
Alcohol affects the availability of several different neurotransmitters – chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other- including dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, and GABA.
While the cause-effect relation between depression and alcohol use can be challenging to determine (as depression can drive alcohol abuse), studies show that depression can follow from heavy drinking. Other research has found that stopping drinking can make you feel better and improve your mood.
Alcohol Impacts Your Sleep
Have you ever found that you have difficulty sleeping after drinking alcohol, particularly if you’ve been binge drinking?
Alcohol affects your body in several ways that can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. These include:
- Affecting the availability of chemicals (such as serotonin) that are involved in sleep regulation
- Interfering with your sleep-wake cycle and stopping you from getting enough REM sleep
- Causing nausea and dehydration, which can keep you up at night or cause you to wake up early
Lack of sleep can leave anyone feeling tired, irritable, and low, even before considering any other hangover symptoms. If you wonder why you feel depressed the morning after a drinking session, disturbed sleep could be part of the answer.
Enduring the Hangover
Hangovers can take a significant physical toll on the body. You may experience headaches, tiredness, light sensitivity, and severe thirst. You may also struggle with trembling, low blood sugar, and sickness.
These symptoms can leave you feeling weak, tired, and mentally low. You may also lack the energy to leave the house, see friends, or engage in activities that would normally cheer you up.
Drinking Alcohol Can Stop You From Developing Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Some people use alcohol to cope with distressing emotions or other mental health issues. You might drink to reduce stress, find temporary relief from negative feelings or thoughts, or just escape from reality.
However, repeatedly using alcohol as a coping mechanism can quickly develop into an alcohol use disorder. You may find you increase your alcohol consumption, leading to alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that up to 50% of people with a substance use disorder also live with co-occurring conditions like depressive disorders.
While alcohol may improve your mood for a moment, it doesn’t address the underlying causes of mental health concerns, and may even exacerbate them. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism may prevent you from adequately addressing mental health issues, identifying root causes, and developing healthy coping mechanisms. This can prolong feelings of depression and make recovery more difficult.
If you have developed alcohol dependence, you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop drinking alcohol.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms happen when your body adjusts to the presence of the substance and becomes dependent on the substance to feel normal. When you stop drinking, you experience symptoms as your body readjusts. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be physical and mental, and in some cases may include depression symptoms.
If you may have developed alcohol dependence, it is essential to seek professional treatment advice before stopping or reducing drinking. In severe cases, untreated alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. Professional medical support can safely guide you through the process, managing uncomfortable symptoms and cravings.
Alcohol and Suicide, Self-Harm, and Psychosis
Alcohol can cause you to lose your inhibitions and act impulsively, particularly if you binge drink (when your blood alcohol concentration exceeds 0.08%).
In some cases, this can result in you doing things you would not otherwise have done, including self-harm and attempting suicide. There is a clear link between heavy drinking and suicidal ideation, attempts, and death from suicide. The risk of suicide may be up to 8 times greater if you are abusing alcohol.
Excessive drinking can trigger psychosis, a mental health condition where you experience hallucinations or delusions. Psychosis can result from acute alcohol intoxication and alcohol withdrawal and is more common when heavy drinkers try to go “cold turkey”.
If you or someone you know experiences suicidal thoughts, there is support available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) offers support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress twenty-four hours a day. Calls are free and confidential.
How Can You Avoid Depression After Drinking?
The best way to avoid depression after drinking is to moderate your alcohol intake. Staying within the recommended levels (two drinks a day or less for a man and one drink or less a day for a woman) helps reduce the effects of alcohol on your brain chemistry.
You could also try:
- Drinking plenty of fluids alongside your alcoholic beverage
- Drinking alcohol with a meal
- Starting drinking earlier so you can get enough hours of sleep
- Doing some light exercise the next day
- Pre-planning some activities that may motivate you and help improve your mood
- Seeking professional support to manage problematic drinking habits
Mental Health and Alcohol Addiction Treatment
There is a way out if you are struggling with depression, alcohol abuse, or both. Effective addiction or mental health treatment can help address underlying causes of negative emotions or unhealthy drinking habits to live a fulfilling sober life.
Alina Lodge is one of the nation’s leading residential addiction treatment centers. We offer a diverse selection of counseling modalities that deliver quality care, individualized treatment, and long-lasting change. Our program continually evolves to reflect advances in addiction science and therapeutic techniques. Our modalities include:
- EMDR therapy
- Grief therapy
- Family therapy
- Relapse therapy
- Mindfulness therapy
- And many more…
At Alina Lodge, we treat the entire person, not just the addiction. Our holistic programs identify underlying mental health issues like depression that may be driving addictive behavior and offer dual diagnosis programs that treat both conditions simultaneously. We emphasize the family and other close connections that constitute much of our identities and can play a fundamental role in our recovery.
Contact us today if you are struggling with a drinking problem, alcohol abuse, or addiction. Our expert team can offer free, confidential advice and talk you through the options available.