Drinking and Depression Don't Mix
Do You Suffer from Christmas Blues?
The holidays are upon us. For too many of us, December is the most depressing month of the year. Knowing we're supposed to feel the "Christmas spirit" and "goodwill toward men" and "jolly" and "generous" only makes (some of) us feel worse. It's a fact: stress, depression, and suicide risk spike during the holidays. So does excessive drinking.
If you are depressed, reaching for a cocktail, glass of wine or beer seems like a logical thing to do. There's only one problem: drinking makes depression worse.
Why am I even writing about something so obvious? Because it wasn't obvious to me -- for decades. And I suffered because of it. And so did those around me A lot.
I eventually made the connection that alcohol and depression don't mix. If my words can spare you or a loved one from diving into a bottomless bottle of despair between now and New Year'sDay, it will be worth it.
Drink less to feel better? No thanks!
You've seen them in magazines, in your inbox, on TV -- even on YouTube. Those ubiquitous "holiday survival guides." And no holiday health tips list is complete without this smarmy warning: Limit alcohol consumption.
I used to read those articles and sneer. "Limit alcohol consumption? Are they high?" (Yes, I was quite the comedian back in the day.) I'd have no problem whatsoever with the author's other suggestions. Forgo mountains of cookies? Not a hardship (as I'd much rather drink my calories anyway). increase my gym time? Sure. Manic exercise is a great way to burn off a holiday hangover. But drink LESS during the holidays? Who do they think they're talking to? Certainly not moi!
So I went right on drinking (excessively) through the holidays and wondering why I kept right on feeling miserable.
Why Drowning Your Sorrows Doesn't Work
If it did, I wouldn't be writing this hub and you wouldn't be reading this hub.
Believe, me, I tried it for years (and not solely during the holidays). Drinking when I felt down (which was a lot of the time) always held out the promise of working "this time." And yes, it would work. For a couple of hours I'd be able to get outside myself and have fun. But I never knew how to maintain that level. So I just kept going. And pretty soon the positive effects of the drinks wore off and I'd find myself tipping from tipsy to drunk to passed out to coming to full of guilt, shame, remorse and anxiety. My temporary lift in spirits was inevitably followed by a far worse mental/emotional condition than I started with.
And yet, I kept doing it again. And again. And yet again. It felt "natural" to me to try to manage my moods with booze. Not only did it come naturally, it was the only "treatment" that my warped brain would consider. On some level I knew (didn't I?) drinking wasn't working.
Quite honestly, I was SHOCKED to find out that alcohol was actually making my depression worse.
Newsflash: Alcohol is a Depressant
Alcohol, the great social lubricant. It makes us merrier and brighter and more joyous ... at first.
The way alcohol works on the body (and brain) is to depress our central nervous system. The initial effects we feel are warmth, relaxation, decreased inhibition. That's the positive side of drinking. And for those who don't suffer from depression -- or alcoholism -- those positives stay positive and there's no problem.
But those effects are fleeting if you:
a) Continue drinking
b) Suffer from an already depressed state
c) Are an alcoholic (which you might not be aware of)
On Antidepressants? Don't drink!
The cure for depression may (or may not) come in a pill. It does not come in a bottle.
Have you been prescribed antidepressants by your doctor? It's quite common these days for even general practitioners/primary care physicians (PCPs) to put their patients on antidepressants. Especially at this time of year. It's like getting a little "boost" of sanity to get us through the dark days of December (and January and on through the year).
I remember being thrilled to get my first scrip for Serzone. Or maybe it was Paxil. Or Prozac. It was many, many years ago. I sincerely expected the pills to work magic and lift me out of my (by then quite severe) depression. No more days upon days unable to get out of bed. I remember thinking to myself, "Woo hoo! My problems are solved!"
There was only one flaw in my thinking -- and my subsequent behavior: I washed down my Serzone/Paxil/Prozac with ... alcohol!
Why did I do that?
Because drinking was my nature!
Because nobody told me not to.
Certainly the pills came with the usual "Don't consume alcoholic beverages while taking this medication" warning label on the bottle. But then, lots of prescription drugs carry the same warning label, with a further explanation that alcohol may "cause drowsiness." Drowsiness being a highly desirable state for me, I was used to ignoring these silly admonitions.
I didn't at the time see it as an either/or thing. So I chose both.
Antidepressants Do NOT Work with Alcohol
Nobody sat me down and said, "If you drink alcohol with these pills they WILL NOT WORK because the alcohol literally cancels out their effect. These are ANTIDEPRESSANT drugs. Alcohol is a DEPRESSANT."
I'm 99.9% sure that I wouldn't have listened even if they had. It was not something I wanted to hear. I wanted my depression to go away, hence the antidepressant pills. But I had no interest in not drinking, so any/all warnings would have fallen on deaf ears.
My experience is far from unique. I have heard probably hundreds of other people share the same thing. They combined alcohol with their prescription antidepressants -- and wondered why they didn't work!
Now we know better.
And now you do, too.
If you're struggling with depression, whether it's seasonal or conditional or clinical (chronic), whether or not you're on prescription antidepressants, do yourself a favor and "limit" your alcohol consumption (smarmy as it is, MM's recommended dose is zero drinks/day).
If you do drink, keep in mind you're merely compounding your already depressed state with a depressive substance. That is your choice. I hope it works better for you than it did for me.
Wishing you a sane and sober season. I know you'll find it's much better than simply "getting" through the holidays. Cheers. MM
I'm not making this up to scare you!
- Alcohol-Medication Interactions - Alcohol Alert No. 27-1995
- Alcohol and antidepressants - The Depression Forums - A Depression & Mental Health Social Commun
My doc told me, my pharmacist told me, everything I read tells me ... don't drink alcohol while on antidepressants. Now by no means am I even close ...
- Antidepressants and alcohol: What is the concern? - MayoClinic.com
Combining antidepressants and alcohol can worsen depression and cause other problems.