Can Alcoholism Cause Anxiety / Depression?

Can Alcoholism Cause Anxiety or Depression?

Some people think that alcoholism can cure their anxiety or depression. For some time, it can. However, studies suggest that alcohol may cause (if not worsen) one’s anxiety or depression. If you find yourself more fearful or sadder after a night of binge drinking, don’t be surprised. Here are several reasons why alcoholism can worsen your already failing psychological state. 

Effects of alcoholism on your body

What is Anxiety? 

According to the National Institutes of Health, anxiety is a normal part of life. You are expected to be fearful before a major test, or when you are right about to speak in front of hundreds of people. This is a useful type of anxiety because it can make you more aware and cautious. 

Should your anxiety last longer and become even worse, that’s where things change. You might have what experts call as Anxiety Disorder, the most common illness in the United States. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America goes on to say that it affects 18.1% of the population – which is about 40 million people aged 18 years old and above. Globally, anxiety affects 1 out of 13 people. 

There are different kinds of anxiety disorders, namely:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder 
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder 
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder 
  • Social Anxiety Disorder 
  • Phobias 

Anxiety Leads to Alcoholism…

According to researchers from the Charleston Alcohol Research Center, anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse often occur alongside each other. This is especially the case in women, who are more prone to suffer from anxiety disorders. As a result, anxiety-laden females have a higher tendency to “self-medicate” or abuse alcohol. 

Instead of turning to traditional therapy, anxious individuals opt for alcohol to cope up with the above-mentioned symptoms. Some find reprieve, however, most end up more anxious a few hours later. 

To make matters worse, anxiety can adversely affect the treatment process for alcoholism. According to a study printed in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors, those with social anxiety were less likely to seek treatment, citing ‘shyness’ as the main barrier from doing so.  With that being said, anxiety may be attributed to more severe and longer-lasting cases of alcoholism in both men and women. 

…as Alcoholism Causes Anxiety 

Anxiety may be one of the reasons behind alcoholism, but studies also show that alcoholism may cause – even worsen – anxiety.

For one, it is a known fact that alcohol affects the brain. It can lower the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Otherwise known as the “happy chemical”, serotonin promotes well-being and satisfaction. Because of the changes that the alcohol makes on the brain, drinkers tend to feel more anxious (instead of better) as the effects wear off. 

With the interrelationship between the two, alcoholism has been associated with anxiety disorders that are more chronic and severe. Consequently, researchers from the University of Minnesota identify alcohol abuse as a barrier to anxiety treatment. 

What is Depression? 

Depression, on the other hand, is a serious medical condition that has become the leading cause of disability worldwide. According to the National Institutes of Health, it affects as much as 19 million Americans. 

Depression is a brain condition that occurs at any age, although it is mostly experienced by teens and young adults. Depression is more common in women and may be caused by the environment, genes, the person’s psychology, among many other factors. 

Symptoms of depression include:

  • A feeling of sadness or emptiness
  • Loss of/decreased interest in favorite hobbies or activities
  • Over-eating or loss of appetite
  • Over-sleeping or insomnia
  • Extreme tiredness and fatigue 
  • Physical manifestations such as cramps, headache, and stomach upset
  • Suicidal thoughts

Depression Causes Alcoholism…

As with the case of anxious people, depressed individuals often turn to alcoholism to numb themselves from the feeling of sadness or despair. Instead of looking for a better way to cope, they see alcohol as the solution to their problems. 

A Finnish study has noted that adolescents with depressive symptoms were most likely to drink as adults. This is quite alarming because it shows that alcoholic tendencies can start early on in life. 

Concerning gender, depression has also been cited as a reason behind problematic alcoholic behaviors. According to Wang and Patten, depressed females aged 19 years and above were more likely to drink 5 or more servings of liquor per week. As for males, depressed drinkers were three times more likely to binge drink, compared to non-alcoholic depressed men. 

…as Alcoholism Worsens Depression 

Alcohol is a depressant that makes significant changes to the brain. It can reduce the availability of tryptophan, which is important in the production of serotonin. Low levels of this feel-good substance are implicated in the development of depression. 

Another mechanism that may lead to depression is alcohol’s ability to bring about negative consequences. It can make one more violent, as it can lower one’s inhibitory process. It can cause one to do such things he wouldn’t do if he were sober. Such tendencies – which they often can’t remember – may lead to feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, and diminished self-worth. When these are put in the mix, they can produce (if not worsen) depressive symptoms. 

As such, researchers from Brown University Medical School have noted a strong correlation between the level of drinking and the severity of depressive symptoms. This was also proven in an Australian study, where it was shown that more depressive symptoms were seen in men who drank 14-27 bottles per week. The same results were noted in women who drank 7-13 bottles weekly. 

More than worsening depression, alcohol – even at small amounts – may get in the way of treatment for depression. To wit, a study conducted in Massachusetts General Hospital has shown that patients who drank less than an ounce alcohol per day responded poorly to treatment with anti-depressant medications. In some cases, alcoholics were seen to be more likely to abandon the treatment regimen altogether. 

The Takeaway 

Anxiety or depression may lead to alcoholism – as drinking may bring about the aforementioned disorders. With that being said, a two-prong approach is advised. Make sure to seek treatment for your anxiety or depression – as you would do with alcoholism. Managing both sides can help prevent relapse – and promote eventual recovery from the said disorders. 

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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