“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 many mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and personality disorders.
The Link Between Alcohol and Depression
Depression can make life seem miserable and impossible, and people who feel this way may be more likely to use alcohol to manage their symptoms. When alcohol is used to manage depression, alcohol dependency may manifest quickly, as the initial effects of alcohol can seem like some relief. Alcohol may provide a distraction from emotions, but it is a short-lived distraction.
Up to one-third of individuals with major depressive disorder also struggle with alcohol use problems. Unfortunately, alcohol is a depressant drug, so it will only worsen depression symptoms. Alcohol abuse impacts key areas of the brain involved with sleep cycles, appetite, mood, fear and anxiety. This cycle may trigger longer and more severe depressive episodes.
Alcohol can also make depressed people more impulsive, which may lead to impulsive 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. The correlation of these two dangers indicates that both depression and alcohol abuse require urgent treatment.
While alcohol has been linked to depression, the symptoms of depression vary. In fact, there are a number of major depressive disorders, including:
- Major depressive disorder is 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.
- Persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia) is considered a less severe yet more chronic form of depression, characterized by persistently depressed mood, fatigue, low self-esteem, unusual sleeping or eating habits, and difficulty concentrating.
- Bipolar disorder applies when depression alternates with episodes of mania that manifest as euphoric mood, inflated self-esteem, impulsive decision-making, or mild hallucinations.
- Cyclothymic disorder, 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.
Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorder
Unlike sadness, which tends to slow the body down, fear and nervousness are natural instincts that heighten alertness, create agitation, and may lead to anxiety. When the protective instincts of fear begin to interfere with daily life, an anxiety disorder may be present. Symptoms associated with clinically significant anxiety include:
- Chronic feelings of uncertainty or apprehension
- Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- Hypervigilance, or always being “on guard”
- High blood pressure
- Panic attacks or specific phobias
- Tense muscles or soreness throughout the body
- Fears that interfere in normal life
- Gastrointestinal distress such a nausea, constipation, or diarrhea, that are not related to a medical diagnosis
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.According to this study, alcohol seems to have the ability to rewire the brain, which may 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.
In other instances, individuals may try to numb chronic or debilitating anxiety with alcohol. It may be tempting to drink while under distress, but the effects of alcohol consumption often lead to even more stressful consequences. Anxiety and alcohol abuse often operate in a never-ending cycle until the individual accepts treatment.
Personality Disorders and Alcohol Use Disorder
Depression and anxiety seem to be triggered or worsened by alcoholism, but some mental illnesses have a more complicated relationship with alcohol. For example, antisocial personality disorder seems to be closely related to alcoholism, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests. According to their study, 15 to 20 percent of men with alcoholism and 10 percent of women with alcoholism have this particular personality disorder. People with antisocial personality disorder may seem impulsive and aggressive most of the time and they may struggle to behave appropriately when placed in a social context.
Other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, may be tied to previous incidents of trauma. Alcohol use only numbs an individual’s ability to cope with past trauma, and it may lead to further traumatic incidents. In any case, alcohol use can worsen the symptoms of trauma in many people.
Alcohol use can worsen the symptoms of most personality disorders, and it can lead to situations that cause feelings of shame, anger, or regret. Most people who have personality disorders feel overwhelmed by their symptoms, but the stressors associated with alcohol abuse only make coping more difficult. Integrated treatment for both the personality disorder and alcohol use disorder can make an incredible improvement in the lives of the addicted person and his or her loved ones.
Treatment at The Canyon
Sometimes it’s not clear if emotional distress leads to alcohol use or if alcohol use leads to emotional distress. What is clear is that both conditions need to be treated simultaneously in order to avoid relapse of one or both conditions. Treating alcoholism that co-occurs alongside a mental illness is our specialty at The Canyon.
Therapy plays a key role in our programs, as it can help people develop practical tools 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. Our dedicated team of licensed medical and mental health professionals have dedicated their lives to helping others get back on track. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism and a mental illness, call The Canyon today and get help today.