Alcohol and depression

I had several bouts of depression during my drinking years, mainly reactive depressions caused by bereavements or being bullied.  As I self-medicated with alcohol that was usually my first line treatment.  I also referred myself to the GP practice for counselling to overcome it but on one occasion this was not enough to help me and I was prescribed anti-depressants.  I took the course of anti-depressants and my low mood improved but in hindsight I realise that my drinking was probably not helping things at the time.  I was prescribed a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) and it is recommended that you do not drink whilst taking this medication.  I roundly ignored this advice washing down my tablet every day with a glass of wine.  I mentioned in another post recently how much better my mood had been since I quit and this got me thinking and researching.

Last year a newspaper article reported the results of a survey of tens of thousands of GP’s sick notes and found that 35 per cent of illnesses were linked to stress, anxiety or depression. In the United Kingdom, the use of antidepressants increased by 234% in the 10 years up to 2002 and the number of antidepressants prescribed by the NHS in the UK almost doubled during one decade, authorities reported in 2010. Furthermore the number increased sharply in 2009 when 39.1 million prescriptions were issued, compared to 20.1 million issued in 1999. Also, physicians issued 3.18 million more prescriptions in 2009 than in 2008 (source).  This is an alarming statistic in itself and I began to wonder how many other people were like me and had continued to drink whilst taking them?

A meta-analysis of depression and substance use among individuals with alcohol use disorder found that high rates of depression are common among individuals with alcohol use disorders (AUD), particularly alcohol dependence. Data from the National Comorbidity Survey estimated the lifetime prevalence of major depression to be nearly one quarter (24.3%) among alcohol-dependent men and nearly one half (48.5%) among alcohol-dependent women, exceeding the prevalence rates among individuals without AUD. In clinical samples, the lifetime rates of co-occurrence are greater still, ranging from 50% to 70%.

Research has shown that the pharmacological effects of alcohol may produce symptoms of depression more or less directly during periods of intoxication and/or withdrawal.  Relatedly, laboratory studies have shown that depressive symptoms can spontaneously emerge in the context of heavy drinking and abate with abstinence.

So my thinking has become how much of my depressive symptomatology was caused by, or certainly exacerbated by, my drinking? And also how many other people may be being prescribed anti-depressants for depression that is caused or exacerbated by drinking and yet they do not know this link between drinking and depression and continue to drink?

Edited to add: 29th April 2016

Drinking Alcohol While Taking Antidepressants Could Exacerbate Depression, Increase Drug’s Side Effects

12 thoughts on “Alcohol and depression

  1. I’ve followed your blog for a long time. Get loads of help & feedback from it. I wonder if you’d be kind enough to have a quick look at mine, as I think we may have spoken previously. Thanks very much 🙂

  2. I was horribly depressed the last two years I was drinking. I knew that if I could stop drinking the depression may not completely leave but that it certainly would lift. I also knew that anti-depressants should not be taken while drinking. I never asked for the anti-depressants because I didn’t want to stop drinking and I was afraid to mix the alcohol with the meds. This is so sad in retrospect. I chose alcohol and depression over treatment and healing. So, so grateful for my sobriety.

    1. iamsobernow, I’m sure you’re not the only person who has done this. Was I any better taking the meds and drinking knowing that I shouldn’t? Glad that you are grateful for your sobriety – as am I 🙂

  3. I know alcohol and depression are a tangled mess for me, and I suspect they are for lots of people. It’s tough stuff to figure out, because the temporary relief of the alcohol really is a relief in the short term, and that relief is sometimes so very welcome. I’ve started to realize that I have to cut alcohol out altogether, and I think that’s going to help in the long term. But sometimes it sure does feel like crawling through a pit to get to that long term.

    Thanks for the ongoing thoughtful posts you’re doing. No easy answers, lots of information–I really like your approach!

  4. I agree with thirstystil. I have felt depressed for as long as I can remember. But i have also drank heavily for as long as I can remember. I never went to see a doctor about how I felt, so was never on anti-depressants. I just kept drinking, and drinking. I never felt sad when I was drinking (unless I was listening to sad songs on YouTube). I loved that joyful feeling I experienced half way down a glass of wine. For the last few years I began to suspect that it was my drinking that was at the cause of my depression & now that I’ve stopped I do feel much better. Once I get to my 100 days I’m going to concentrate on the foods my body needs to a. feel super about myself, b. to strengthen and support my liver and kidneys & see what difference that has.

    1. That’s the thing about drinking – the joy is temporary and short lived. Better to have a happy life with a little less of that kind of joy than an unhappy life with short spells of drink induced joy. Glad you’re feeling better already 🙂

  5. I have been suffering from depression for the last 4 years. I have been taking ‘lexapro’ an anti depressant to help me combat depression. Unfortunately I kept drinking, daily, heavily etc which lead me to some very dark places. However I am now off alcohol nearly 80 days and I am not exaggerating the difference has been unmeasurable. Life is so good

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. You were not alone in the depression, medication and drinking – me too. Congratulations on the almost 80 days off the booze and I am so glad that you are feeling so much better and that life is so good 🙂

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