“I’ve had a bad day, and I need a drink.” People with alcoholism might say something like this dozens of times in a single month, hoping to explain or justify their use and abuse of alcohol. That little sip of alcohol might seem to soothe their nerves and make the day just a little brighter, but unfortunately, alcoholism has been linked to a great many mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and personality disorders.
Depression can make life seem miserable and impossible, and people who feel this way are likely to use alcohol to manage their symptoms. Dependency manifests rather quickly for people like this, as the initial effects of alcohol bring a heightened sense of euphoria and release. With each sip, people may feel their sadness fade. But as the presence of the drug persists, chemical imbalances begin to invade key areas of the brain involved with sleep cycles, appetite, mood, fear and anxiety, triggering more severe and more frequent depressive episodes.
Alcohol can also make depressed people a bit more impulsive, and sometimes, this can allow people to make terrible decisions. For example, analysis conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that one in four people who committed suicide had blood alcohol levels that met or exceeded the legal limit. These people may have felt depressed due to alcohol, and then felt impulsive due to the same substance. In no time at all, they could make decisions that ended their lives.
While alcohol has been linked to depression, the way that depression manifests can vary. In fact, there are a number of major depressive disorders, including:
- Major depression, characterized by chronic feelings of worthlessness, lack of interest and motivation, difficulty making decisions or paying attention, and struggles with obsessive suicidal thoughts, along with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Dysthymia, which is considered a less severe form of depression, characterized by persistently depressed mood, fatigue, low self-esteem, unusual sleeping or eating habits, and difficulty concentrating
- Bipolar disorder, which applies when major depression alternates with intense episodes of mania, manifesting as euphoric enlightenment, inflated self-esteem, and a flighty, outgoing personality
- Cyclothymia, which is characterized by less severe periods of mania followed by deep periods of depression
Any of these types of depression can be serious, and they can all be augmented by the use and abuse of alcohol.
Unlike depression, which might be considered somewhat unhealthy, fear and nervousness are natural instincts that allow people to avoid danger. Anxiety as a mental disorder is diagnosed when these once helpful symptoms begin to interfere with daily life, whether brought on by real or imagined circumstances. Symptoms associated with anxiety include:
- Feelings of uncertainty or apprehension
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Increased respiration
- Tense muscles/rigid posture
- Constipation or diarrhea
Some people experience low levels of discomfort most of the time. Others experience anxiety in periodic and terrifying episodes. Sensations of choking, sinking, or being frozen in place are typically used to describe the sensations people feel during these episodes.
A study in the journal Nature Neuroscience suggests that anxiety is common among people who drink heavily as alcohol seems to have the ability to rewire the brain, which might make it more difficult for alcoholics to recover from a traumatic experience. While people like this once might have recovered from something scary like a car accident, the alcoholism traps them in a cycle of nervousness and worry, which might make them yet more likely to drink.
Depression and anxiety seem to be triggered by alcoholism, but some mental illnesses have a more complicated relationship with alcohol. Antisocial personality disorders, for example, seem to be closely related to alcoholism, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that 15 to 20 percent of men with alcoholism and 10 percent of women with alcoholism also have this particular personality disorder. People like this might seem impulsive and aggressive almost all the time and they might struggle to behave appropriately when placed in a social context.
Alcohol can make these tendencies so much worse, as it can reduce inhibitions and make even terrible ideas seem plausible or even preferable. People who may have buried their urge to lash out prior to alcoholism might find it difficult to do so when they’re drinking, and they might be hurt or even arrested due to their poor choices.
Treatment at The Canyon
Sometimes it’s not clear whether emotional distress leads a person to alcohol or vice versa. What is clear is that both conditions need to be treated simultaneously in order to avoid relapse in one or both conditions. Treating alcoholism co-occurring with mental illnesses is our specialty at The Canyon.
Therapy plays a key role in our programs, as it can help people to learn how to use their minds to conquer the destructive habits associated with mental illnesses and alcoholism. We work hard to tailor our care, ensuring that people get just the right kind of help at the right time. When you come, you’ll get comprehensive care. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism and a mental illness, call The Canyon today and get help today.