Depression and drinking

I’d like to thank Libby Ranzetta over at positively depressed for permission to re-publish her blog post on depression and drinking.  Her blog is excellent if depression is something you are struggling with and you are looking for answers or for things to help.

Does depression make you drink too much, or is it the other way round?  There’s lots written on this topic – ‘dual diagnosis’ – some of it even by me.  I have a personal interest: my heavy drinking started in early teens and kept going.  Over the past 20 years or so I have unsuccessfully tried many times and many methods to stop drinking.  These include public pledges of sobriety, bribes, competitive cycling, antabuse (bought online), baclofen (again, bought from the internet, having read The End of My Addiction), counselling, hypnotherapy, naltrexone (internet again), AA, giving up work, shaving my head to shame myself into stopping. All failed beyond a few days.

However, since my depression has improved, I have been able to remain alcohol free from 1st January 2014, thanks in no small degree to peer support from the ‘sobersphere’, particularly Soberistas and Belle. Turns out there are many, many women like me who, whilst not being physically dependent on alcohol, are hooked all the same.

What is different this time, such that my decision to stop on New Year’s Day actually stuck? Here are some thoughts:

  • I was ready; I wanted to live. My determined efforts to beat my lifelong depression were only working up to a point. Drinking was not helping.
  • The New Year was a symbolic, easy-to-aim for starting point.  A discussion thread (on about stopping drinking on 1st Jan popped out of the universe and I signed up with a public declaration on it. I now felt that bit more accountable.
  • I told my nearest and dearest what I was doing. They have heard it all before but were kind and supportive as ever.
  • I took it dead seriously and gave it top priority. Being alcohol free is more important right now than losing weight, working, housework, my in-tray, going out etc etc.
  • I ate lots of chocolate initially. Less so now.
  • In the early days I went to the Sobersitas chatroom to help cope with cravings.
  • I bought a huge stash of alcohol free beer and wine from The Alcohol Free Shop. Nearly all the beer and some of the red wine is v nice.
  • I made myself post on the Soberistas discussion, as mentioned above. I am not comfortable talking about myself or trying to engage with strangers but it has got much easier.  Quite a few are no longer strangers; more like friends.
  • The engagement and support on Soberistas is much more powerful than I expected. Knowing I am not alone in this struggle and that people I respect are struggling too makes me feel less of a useless shitbag.
  • Morso-S80-90-insert-stoveI still look at and read sober blogs most days. I don’t allow myself to think about whether that is healthy or not.
  • After a couple of months I signed up to Belle’s 100 Day Challenge, and then her Team 180 and Team 365 challenges. I try not to think beyond that, it is still too daunting to consider being alcohol free forever (although I know that’s what I need).
  • Belle says you need treats when you go alcohol free.  My treats were fresh cut flowers from the market twice a week in the early days, and playing jazz on my trombone more often. Now I have monthly treats. My treat for being alcohol free for a year will be a woodburning stove in the sitting room. I have always wanted one.

 The NHS doesn’t deal well with ‘dual diagnosis’. My thoughts on this will follow at some point.

Read her post here:

I’d like to congratulate Libby on her 1 year soberversary and I hope to share more of what she’s doing to help people with depression in the future.  I share her frustration at how bad the NHS is at dealing with ‘dual diagnosis’.  She and I are on the same wavelength as we both covered this topic and you can read what I wrote again here.

Our quit stories are similar too – no physical dependence, sober blogging community, AF beers and wines and lots of sober treats.  She and I have been talking about researching the effectiveness of peer support via the sober online community in helping people get sober.  Watch this space 🙂

29 thoughts on “Depression and drinking

  1. I have suffered from depression and anxiety for a long time. I didn’t realize it. I thought this was normal.
    In early sobriety I went to a therapist as my depression got severe. For the first time ever I was willing to try medication. I was just so stuck in the blackness of despair.

    This has been an important part of my sobriety, which is at 13 months and counting. I may have been able to not drink, but without medical assistance I would not be living an amazing life in recovery.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Anne and I agree whether the drinking exacerbates or hides depression if you are really struggling you should seek professional help. Equally if you are feeling suicidal here in the UK you can call or email When I was a volunteer for them I also took a call from the US so don’t let where you live stop you calling them or a similar service provided nationally for your country.

  2. thanks for this re-post Lou – for me alcohol and depression/anxiety have been so inextricably interlinked that it is only by removing the alcohol entirely have I been able to see and assess the extent that the latter affects my life. and guess what? without the former the other stuff has shrunk to (mostly) manageable proportions…. still cannot believe that docs can treat mental health issues without even raising the possibility of alcohol use disorders 🙁

      1. Libby will be along later to add her comments so I’ll let her respond to this one Prim! 🙂

    1. Bonkers isn’t it Prim? Dual diagnosis just gets you bounced back and forth between services with no-one willing to take responsibility because of the impact that one has on the other. Desperately needs to be addressed I agree ….

  3. Congratulations Libby on your good decisions, hard work and wonderful results. Wow! It makes me very happy to read stories like this. I am happy for you.

    I was severely depressed before I quit drinking but the anxiety, depression and suicide thougts disappeared immediately when I quit, overnight. There will be some that say: It might not have been a real depression then, but even if it wasn’t: my GP was pressing me to take pills for it and that would have been way worse. Then I would have been addicted to alcohol AND pills. 🙁

    GPs should always question a patient with depression on their eating, drinking and sleeping habits and run a blood test at least on vitamin D and possibly do a glucose intolerance test for those of us that get grumpy when hungry or ‘hangry’ 🙂

    1. Hey feeling! Happy to hear that stopping drinking had such a profoundly positive effect on your severe depression 🙂 As someone who has taken anti-depressants I feel they have a time and a place. I was always very resistant to taking medication but had been in therapy for a while and it felt like things were getting worse not better and at that point I felt that pills had to be considered (but not giving up drinking though!). They worked for me and got me over that really difficult phase despite me continuing to drink, which reduces their effectiveness as alcohol is a depressant so they were working against each other! Anti-depressants these days are not addictive but we can get used to the leveling off in mood that happens and that can be difficult to manage when we stop taking them. I agree with the questions the GP should ask but in this country screening doesn’t appear to be that great seeing as many of us weren’t even asked how much we drank before they were prescribed! 🙁

      1. Hi Louise,

        Sorry to hear that things were so difficult for you. And, I did not know anti-depressants are not addictive (anymore). Having said that: one thing I am good at is getting addicted to anything. So knowing that, I don’t want to add more stuff to my life that rules aspects of me. Mostly because they, like alcohol, cover up what is really going on and therefore I can not find the real entry to healing. Actually, I’m writing a post on my theory on healing exactly now. 🙂 Hope to finish it today and hope you drop by to give your expert thoughts on it.

        xx, Feeling

    2. Thanks for your kind words feeling. Alcohol use has powerful links to suicide – am so glad to hear your depression has gone now you are alcohol free.

    1. It is isn’t TMSN? 🙂 I think the online sober community is a non-drinking deal breaker saver for me 😉

    1. Hi Craig! Thank you for reading and commenting on Libby’s post. Thank you also for the link 🙂

  4. Congrats Libby on one year 😀 . And thank YOU, Lou, for introducing me to yet another interesting blog! I never thought of “dual diagnosis”, that describes me perfectly. I have struggled with anxiety since I was a kid, and as I got older depression and alcohol were added to the mix, a vicious cycle. Libby’s post is so encouraging. To know there are others who struggle and are able to recover is reassuring 🙂 . would love to see any stats regarding sober online communities and their effectiveness! xx

    1. You’re welcome Lori 🙂 We’d love to see those stats too – which is why we might need to be the one’s to start to collect the data as it hasn’t been done before! 😉 xx

      1. It’s definitely a positive trend that’s catching on 🙂 bringing recovery into the 21st century, so to speak 😉

  5. Dear Lucy,
    Thank you for sharing Libby’s site.
    I have long suffered from depression, way before I started drinking heavily.
    It’s a long battle. In my case, stopping drinking helped lesson SOME of my depression.
    Thoughts of suicide only happened when I was drinking.
    But I still struggle with depression.
    I always hope one day, things will get better!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience untipsy. I’m hopeful too that you not drinking now will help you greatly with your struggle with depression 🙂

  6. This is a real chicken and egg one Louise. Apart from a couple of periods I have been on anti-depressants pretty much since I was 26 (that is almost 20 yrs) Throughout that period I have never been asked about my alcohol intake. I was once questioned when I was at the drs on an unrelated matter – but that was during some kind of drive when they were asking everyone. The doctor did say that he though I was drinking too much and above the guidelines. I suggested he looked at his own drinking and that was the end of that.
    I have to say that when I am AF my mood improves and my anxiety lessens significantly.
    Lots to think about!!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Kim and it is so telling that in all that time no one asked you about your alcohol consumption. It is also interesting to hear that after you challenged the doctor about his drinking he never asked again! 😉

    2. Hi Kim, I think you are right to say it’s chicken and egg. I guess it doesn’t really matter which one came first though – they both feed off each other regardless! x

    1. Thank you! I’ll pass on your kind words to the author Libby and thanks for the kind words about the blog 🙂

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