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The Vicious Cycle Of Alcohol And Depression

In a culture where drinking is the social norm you can easily excuse / ignore the depression after alcohol and the impact on your physical health, and relationships. After all a drink or two to relax at the end of a long day seems reasonable enough. And social events are so much more fun after that first drink – especially if you experience anxiety.

However, there is a dark-side to excessive drinking; depression and anxiety. Excessive alcohol or drug use is actually listed as one of the symptoms of depression or anxiety. This is very concerning because alcohol doesn’t make depression or anxiety easier to cope with it actually makes your symptoms worse. 

Even more interesting is that your depression might actually be ’caused’ by your drinking. One 30 year study of 400 men found almost one-third developed major depressive episodes ‘only’ when drinking heavily. 


♦ A lack of hope about the future

♦ Difficulty sleeping

♦ Not wanting to get out of bed in the morning

♦ Irritability

♦ Fatigue and lack of motivation

♦ Inability to enjoy things you used to

♦ Comfort eating or having no interest in food


♦ To deal with life problems and stressers

♦ To feel relaxed and happy

♦ Because everyone else does

♦ To cope with chronic pain

♦ To celebrate

♦ Out of habit

Research does however recognise that very moderate levels can reduce the risk of diabetes, gallstones, dementia, and heart disease. 

However, you might have noticed how easily a drink after work or on the weekend can become 2, 3, 4 or more. Before long it becomes your normal. If your alcohol consumption has become excessive it can damage your internal organs, and increases your risk of cancer, weakens your immune system, and negatively impacts on your relationships.

As a man you are at risk of alcoholism if you consume more than 14 standard drinks per week, and as a woman if your consumption exceeds 7. A standard drink is only 10 grams of pure alcohol, that’s only 100 mls of wine! And ‘saving up’ your weekly quota for one night (binge drinking) is just as detrimental.

And men you may need to be extra vigilant, as you have twice the risk of becoming dependent on alcohol, possibly because you experience greater dopamine releases than women when they drink. 


Your Brain 

Alcohol affects the levels of the neurotransmitters in your brain. These are the chemical messages that govern your behaviour, thought processes and ‘emotions’. In a nutshell alcohol is both a stimulant and a depressant.

Lets look at what happens in your brain when you drink:

♦ Dopamine levels are boosted in your brain’s reward centre increasing pleasurable feelings and temporarily dulling any negative feelings.

♦ The neurotransmitter glutamate is suppressed. This is the excitatory neurotransmitter responsible for energy and brain activity. At the same time more of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA is released with its sedative affect. Combined they heighten your feelings of depression after alcohol, stress and anxiety.

♦  And if you are a heavy drinker your serotonin levels are reduced. This is an important chemical for regulating your mood, sleep and appetite.

In essence your brain is tricking you into believing it is helping you feel great, or at least better than you were feeling, however, this is far from the truth. You are actually entering into a potentially vicious cycle of depression after alcohol.

In addition, your risk of developing alcoholism has increased substantially as your body craves to feel good and be free of negative feelings. 

I know now it is children who accept life; grown people cover it up and pretend it is different with drinks. ~ Rumner Godden

Your Relationships 

Unfortunately the high levels of pleasurable effects of alcohol are often followed by negative emotional responses. In part this is due to a narrower perception of situations as they unfold, making it difficult to see things as they really are. Combined with the impulsivity alcohol causes you might find yourself saying things you deeply regret. In other words “whatever comes into your mind”, and even acting aggressively towards people you care about. This can lead to regretful outcomes with family, friends and work, adding to feelings of depression, low self-worth, stress, and anxiety. And just as troubling is not remembering your words or actions later.

That is the remarkable thing about drinking: it brings people together so quickly, but between night and morning it sets an interval again of years. ~ Erich Maria Remarque


♥ Reduce your intake – If you are drinking every-day, you could plan to have at least 2 days per week without alcohol. Plan to do something else at this time. E.g. take the dog for a walk, enjoy a luxurious bath, meet a friend for coffee, try a new recipe, or learn mindfulness meditation. 

Or you may decide to quit all together. If so, you can tack your recovery with this online sobriety calendar. However, if your drinking is excessive then you will need to do this with the support of an organisation like Alcoholics Anonymous. Here is the link for the Australia.

♥ Be mindful – Start taking notice of how you feel after each drink. Notice how you interact with others. How do you feel the next day? Is it enhancing your relationships? Is it impacting on your mental health?

♥ Talk to someone you trust about your worries – You’re not alone in the challenges that you face unless you choose to be. Reach out and connect with positive, authentic and generous people.

♥ Learn how to be self-compassionate – You are innately human and make mistakes, and that’s okay! It is normal! In Brene Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection” she highlights our tendency to zoom in on the flawed self who is alone and struggling. This creates shame, the solution; talk to someone you can connect with openly and honestly.

There is no one in the world that has your life story, strengths, values and gifts – 

Begin to nurture those aspects of yourself that matter to you. And if you don’t know what they are, find out!

 ♥ Increase your dopamine naturally – There is lots of information available on this. But here are just a few: exercise, meditation, listening to music, and my favorite – eating a little bit of dark chocolate (85% is best). Yum! 

Don’t settle for half a life by allowing alcohol, depression or anxiety to rob you of your motivation, hope, and love for life. Its about making small changes. Don’t do it alone, reach-out for support, especially if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts. If that’s you then tell someone! And if there isn’t anyone you feel you can tell then call LifeLine on 131114.

Lets Talk

If you want to break free of the debilitating affects of depression after alcohol, anxiety or stress, then please call me for a Free 15 minute consultation. We can talk about what is going on for you and I can answer any questions you might have. If I am with a client I will get back to you as soon as I can.

or if you are ready to book now

Lets Talk

If you want to break free of the debilitating affects of depression after alcohol, anxiety or stress, then please call me for a Free 15 minute consultation. We can talk about what is going on for you and I can answer any questions you might have. If I am with a client I will get back to you as soon as I can.

or if you are ready to book now

Mindfulness Quiz:
How present are you in your life?

Mindfulness Quiz:
How present are you in your life?


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