Obvious and not so obvious links between alcohol and depression

How alcoholism and depression go hand-in-hand

Depressed? Are you drinking to forget or to cope, or perhaps even both? Alcoholism and depression all too often go hand-in-hand.

Life’s troubles, including relationship problems, require huge emotional resources you may not feel able to conjure up (anymore). And that may have led to your drinking too much.

No wonder you’re feeling miserable!

Why do I care? Because both conditions have an enormous impact on an intimate couple relationship (and potentially any relationship). A failing relationship can lead to depression and you may therefore reach for the bottle.

Don’t worry –  I’m not here to judge. I really hope I can help you break out of that vicious circle.  There are plenty of resources on my site to help you do that, and I’ll be with you every step of the way. For now, let’s get to grips with how alcoholism is linked with depression.

First, I’d recommend that you have a look at my page on the Symptoms of Alcoholism to help you understand the link between your drinking (or that of your partner) and your feeling so miserable. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Photo: man with hangover. Text: Discover the links between alcoholism and depression.

Are you just miserable or are you suffering from depression?

I’d like you to now look at my page on the Signs of Depression, where I’ve detailed what I check with clients who come to me for counselling for their depression.

When you’re back here let’s look at the link between alcoholism and depression…

Alcoholism and depression

Below is a list of common questions that your doctor or counsellor might ask you to find out if you’re suffering from depression. I explain how symptoms are linked with alcoholism.

I’d like you to read this alongside the article Alcoholism Stages as it has a personal account from Chris, a ‘recovered alcoholic’. (Although, I really don’t like that term! It sort of keeps someone rooted in the condition.)

Do you feel down most of the time?

Chris tells the story of his ups and down, how low his self-esteem was and how his relationships failed. In the end he felt he had nothing to look forward to. He felt lonely, even around other people. The drink took all that made life worthwhile.

Do you recognise your own situation and feelings in his story? You’re born to connect with other people. Giving and receiving attention, a sense of community and intimate relationships are all essential emotional needs – vital to our mental well-being. If you’re no longer able to meet these needs, then it’s no surprise that you’re depressed.

I so want you to feel better. You deserve it – regardless of what you might think yourself. You are here because of your unique talents, there is no one like you! The world is waiting for you!

Do you feel sad all the time?

If you have a significant alcohol problem, you may well have good reasons to feel sad. You may have lost a great deal in your life already, depending on what stage you’re at.

Chris describes how he suffered from “self-pity on steroids”! Sadness is very common in both alcoholism and depression.

Please note though: as a counsellor I’ve too often seen people who had been misdiagnosed as suffering from depression. If you’ve suffered a significant loss in your life it is normal to feel sad, that doesn’t mean you’re suffering from depression!

Has your appetite changed?

If you’re drinking too much then you increasingly get your calories from the alcohol. They’re ’empty’ calories, there is no nourishment in alcohol.

Have you also stopped caring about eating healthy nutritious food?

If you aren’t bothered about eating properly, this will of course change your appetite. People who are depressed in any case tend to either over-eat (comfort eating) or under-eat. The link between alcoholism and depression is again quite clear.  

Do you feel tired all the time?

A lousy diet leads to a vitamin and mineral deficiency. That makes it very likely that you lack the energy to do anything meaningful even if you wanted to. Of course you’re feeling miserable!

Again it’s a vicious circle – you’re depressed and in an attempt to soothe yourself you reach for yet another glass or can. When you wake up out of that trance, you have another reason to beat yourself up!

See the link between alcoholism and depression?

Do you have difficulty concentrating?

When you’re depressed your focus is inward – concerned with how awful you’re feeling, how life is just too difficult, how you’ve been let down, etc.

And when you’re dependent on alcohol as well, your outward focus is increasingly on when, where and how you’ll get your next ‘fix’.

There’s little space left in your head for anything up-lifting.  

In a sense depression is a selfish disease – you think about yourself and how you feel for most of the day. Your spouse is likely to increasingly complain about your lack of attention for him or her and the children.

Do you have difficulty falling asleep, or do you wake up early in the morning feeling exhausted?

Alcohol disrupts the natural sleep/wake cycle. An important aspect of healthy sleep is dream sleep.

During dream sleep, your brain deconstructs left-over troublesome thoughts by means of metaphorical representations. For example, a wayward machine you kick in frustration in your dream takes the place of a difficult boss who you would have wanted to wallop!

Sleeping – and in particular dreaming – are important for your mental well-being. Not only that, but research has shown that a lack of sleep can also lead to relationship problems.

Double whammy – your relationship may already be in trouble if you’re drinking too much.

Do you suffer from low self-esteem and/or lack of confidence?

Confidence and self-esteem come from being competent in several areas of your life. An alcohol problem in the early stages doesn’t necessarily get in the way of someone engaging in enjoyable, worthwhile and fun activities and hobbies, or work.  

However, the more you drink, the more likely it is that you lose friends and get into financial trouble. Opportunities and social gatherings diminish, your friends find other things to do with other friends.

Note how Chris comments in his article on Alcoholism Stages about forlornly standing at the sidelines, with a can in his hand. He would watch his friends play football thinking about how he used to be good at that game.

That sense of rejection and your beating yourself up about the increasing lack of control over your behaviour are a real blow to your self-esteem.

Also, perhaps you’ve even started drinking in an attempt to cover up a low self-esteem. Does this sound like you? If so, have a look at my page How to Build Self-Esteem.

You really can recover from all this if you take action. Do something positive for yourself. Do something thoughtful for another (without expectation!) and your self-esteem will get a real boost.

Have you stopped doing the things you used to enjoy?

Loss of interest in all kinds of activities is common in alcoholism and depression, including (but by no means limited to):

  • intimacy
  • personal hygiene/grooming
  • social interactions and hobbies

In the meantime too – your partner or spouse is very likely withdrawing from you too! A further reason for you to feel depressed.

Have you started to favour drinking alcohol above any other activity?

Photo: Woman with umbrella, looking down. Text: Need help? Click here.
Chat with a licensed therapist to get some reassurance, support and help with your depression. It can be such a relief to get things of your chest and get the advice you need.

Do you easily feel irritable and angry?

Irritability, anger, restlessness and anxiety are all symptoms of depression. However, they’re also symptoms of someone who’s being prevented from having his/her next drink.

Again you can see how both alcoholism and depression are linked. From the Human Givens point of view (see links further down) there’s no point in separating the two when someone goes for treatment. And indeed in Human Givens Therapy the focus will not be so much on your drinking. It will be on helping you to look outward again and meeting your essential emotional needs. 

Do you feel guilty about all sorts of things?

That sense of guilt is just so painful – particularly when you know that you’re letting people down. That is – when you’re past the denial.  

The guilt often feels unbearable… it’s much easier to have another drink than suffer.

Rather than pointlessly regurgitating the negative stuff, I’d like you to work on changing your thought patterns. I know… you’ve probably already tried yourself without much success. But stick with me for a moment…

You need to start somewhere, trust me, do one thing and do it to the best of your ability. There’s no failure – there’s only feedback.

Self-hypnosis can really help build a more positive outlook with a focus away from your troubles. It is a simple, but effective, user-friendly and affordable way to help yourself. For further information, see my article Self-hypnosis FAQ and Downloads.

At least by taking action you can regain a sense of control and volition. It’ll be start at breaking the link between alcoholism and depression and stop that vicious circle.

Quote: 'There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill. -Deepak Chopra
You have your own unique talents!

Have you found yourself thinking about death lately, or even for some time?

Chris describes how, as an alcoholic, he became suicidally depressed: “life was a curse”.

People who don’t drink to excess, but do suffer from depression, will often say that they’ve thought about killing themselves. ‘Suicidal ideation’, as it’s called, is not uncommon and it’s a myth that those who talk about it won’t actually do it!  

Someone who’s made a suicide attempt is at risk of doing it again.

So, how is it for you? 

… Have you contemplated taking your own life?
… Have you considered how you would kill yourself? 
… Have you made plans?

If you could answer just a couple of those questions with a yes, than please do seek help. See: Help with emotional problems.

Suicide prevention

I’m committed to helping you protect your personal safety. Please note: if you are feeling suicidal right now, read my page help with emotional problems. There you can find which organisations would best serve you right now.

Mental signs and symptoms of alcoholism and depression

This is the list of symptoms of alcoholism Chris wrote about:

  • low self-esteem/self-confidence
  • loneliness
  • obsession with drinking
  • paranoia

Each one is enough to become depressed about. In addition, you may experience:

  • memory problems
  • difficulty concentrating
  • making decisions

Both depression and alcoholism cause these symptoms… another double hit.

Lifestyle choices in alcoholism that lead to depression

Alcoholics often have a tendency towards…

  • excessive absenteeism – you’re just not on the job when you should be
  • lying and not lying about drinking
  • giving up on hobbies – the stuff you loved (and still do) is tucked away in cupboards and memberships are paid for but unused
  • failed relationships – too many or the very one that would have changed your life. The alcoholic just doesn’t have enough energy, goodwill, motivation and interest for him/herself – let alone to share with a partner
  • messy surroundings – are you too embarrassed to invite someone in (unless you’re drunk at the time and therefore not bothered)?
  • having no money and probably stealing or just relying on someone else to bail you out
  • irresponsibility – no wonder you think of yourself as a ‘failure’

Just from looking at this list, it’ll probably come as no surprise that someone with an alcohol problem is almost by definition depressed.

Alcoholism and depression go hand-in-hand.

So, if you recognise yourself in all this, make a start today to turn your life around.

One of the easiest starts is to download the right hypnosis mp3 for you because you can deal with your alcoholism and depression… I believe in you!

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Your problem is never too small or too big, too silly, too embarrassing or too complicated to get personal advice (anonymous if you want) from a licensed, professional counsellor. They’ll be happy to help.

Other interesting links

Mental Health Foundation: Alcohol and mental health PDF