The great English poet G. K. Chesterton wrote: “drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.” More than just a saying, there is a profound and applicable truth to this, even in the modern day. Depression and drinking go hand in hand, and one makes the other worse. It’s a terrible relationship, one you would never want to entertain – and just as abusing alcohol can make you miserable, abusing alcohol because you’re miserable will only make both worse.
Alcohol is a common coping mechanism for the simple reason that it does, to a degree, make us happier. To be more precise, it makes people worry less. As an anti-anxiety drug of sorts, alcohol soothes the mind and calms the spirit – but at a cost. Not only is alcohol addictive, but it is poisonous. Too much at once, or over one’s life, will kill you.
And despite alcohol’s ability to make you forget for just a moment, nothing will have changed once you wake up. The way out of misery – the way out of depression – is by fighting through the pain and pushing against the problems. Therapy and treatment are in preparation of these two things – and drugs like alcohol will present you with setbacks in your depression, and other problems. Here’s why.
Alcohol And The Brain
Anyone who’s had more than a few drinks knows that alcohol clearly has a perceivable effect on the brain – one that does not take long at all to kick in. From slurred speech to difficulty thinking and slower reaction, the consensus between all drinkers is that it makes you slow – regardless of whether you are a happy drunk, a sad drunk, or an angry drunk. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and reduces anxiety, with the specifics differing from person to person based on their history with alcohol, and their genetics.
Outside of the effects of a single binge drinking session, alcohol also leaves lasting effects on the brain – negative ones. Alcohol slowly eats away at the brain and at several of your organs, primarily your heart, liver, and kidneys. But in the brain, rapid and severe drinking will lead to memory loss, slowed cognition, and increased risk-taking – followed by problems with decision making, caused by a combination of nerve damage and grey matter damage.
Why Does Alcohol Worsen Depression?
This all goes hand in hand with mental health issues, as alcohol not only induces brain damage, but worsens the effects of depression by increasing feelings of guild and helplessness and presenting a risk of addiction.
The damage is long-lasting, but not permanent. Abstinence can give your body enough time to heal, but the process takes years. Just like the battle against alcoholism, improving your brain and organ health after excessive drinking takes time.
Finding The Motivation To Do Anything
Depression is more than occasional sadness. Sometimes, it is defined as the inability to feel joy or pleasure. To paint a picture, people struggling with depression are fighting an existential battle that, from an outsider’s perspective, is completely invisible. They struggle with thoughts of suicide, and some days, getting out of the bed can seem like an impossible task – let alone getting a change of clothes, taking a shower, or cleaning up.
There are ups and downs for everyone, but for people with clinical depression, the downs slip far below the limits of the chart, off the board, into unseen realms.
Telling someone with depression to simply feel better is asinine, but the ultimate goal of treatment and therapy is to make this very task possible. Fortunately there are treatments for depression available, including new depression treatment methods like TMS, that can help without feeling the need to drink due to depression. People with depression sometimes lack the motivation to do what most would consider the most basic things – and they feel all the worse for it. Friends or family may tell someone with depression to just do it – regardless of whether it means getting dressed, walking the dog, doing the dishes, or making coffee – and finding themselves unable to, the feeling of worthlessness grows, and the disease becomes crushingly difficult to shake off.
There are days when things are better, and the depression is not as dominating. Days when a person might wake up and have just enough energy to start the day.
These are the most important days, especially if your depression is coupled with a dangerous habit like drinking. When you wake up, make it a goal to immediately jump up and out of bed. Summon as much visceral vigor as possible to complete the most basic and fundamental task of the day – before your mind can find a way to talk you out of it. In most cases, depression manifests as a long list of self-defeating thoughts and voices – by starting the day quickly before the voices can take hold, you can get dressed as hurriedly as possible and get to the first task of the day.
That task should always be something therapeutic. Exercising, walking in sunshine, listening to music, or starting your day with a comedy podcast are all quick and easy ways to achieve an initial mental boost, right out of the gate. Choose something depending on how you feel that day and make it a morning ritual to infuse your day with a spark of joy.
With time, you can set up a more complex schedule, and draft some goals. It can start with something like completing two chores in one day, or folding laundry faster. It may be something like increasing the time you spend walking, finishing a project for one of your hobbies, completely reading a book, or progressing to a harder exercise. Accomplishing things – no matter how small they might seem – can feel like adding notches to your belt, as well as improving both your physical and mental health. There may be times when motivation is harder to come by – but in the long-term things will get better if you work at it, and get help for addition and mental help.