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Alcohol Recovery and Depression: Why You (May) Feel Depressed After Quitting Drinking

Alcohol Recovery and Depression

What happens if you’re in recovery from alcoholism…but still feel depressed?

Depression and alcoholism have a long history together. Some people use alcohol to “self-medicate” when depressed, hoping to numb the pain. It may work for a while…however, alcohol is a “depressant” to the body.

Which means it can make pre-existing mental health issues worse.

Some people may become depressed after the initial euphoria they experience when drinking. So they keep drinking to avoid negative feelings. The cycle repeats, getting worse each time.

Depression and Alcoholism Fueling Each Other
Depression and alcoholism fueling each other can feel like you’re drowning. Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash.

We frequently work with clients who suffer from alcoholism and depression. Sometimes they recover from the alcoholism, but instead of feeling elated at the recovery, they still struggle with depression.

There is a reason. We’ll explain it here. We’ll also talk about what you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Depression Can Come Before, During, or After Alcohol Addiction

Depression may come from one of many distinct causes. Home life. Childhood trauma. A chemical imbalance in the brain. Even food choices can trigger it.

Excessive drinking CAN cause depression. It’s not the only cause though…nor even the most common.

AddictionCenter.com goes into detail on depression in this article: What is Depression?

According to the article, several types of depression exist, from mild to all-consuming. The condition can last for a short time, or weigh upon you for years, depending on its cause and your own life’s circumstances.

How does alcohol figure in? AddictionCenter.com links it to continuing depression, not triggering it:

“People are often seduced by the sedative effects of alcohol and use it as a kind of medication to help distract them from persistent feelings of sadness. Alcohol may appear to temporarily relieve some of the symptoms of depression. However, it ultimately worsens depression on a long-term basis.”

WebMD concurs, in its guide on Alcohol & Depression. The guide says depression often comes first. We usually start drinking to escape the depression.

Then the drinking grows into its own problem, dominating other parts of your life over time. Which, unfortunately, also deepens the depression. They negatively reinforce one another, dragging you down further.

Here are three characteristics of alcohol abuse:

  1. Low self-esteem
  2. Manipulative behavior
  3. Disregard for negative consequences, like losing a job, money problems, etc.

Those all sound like characteristics of depression, don’t they? That’s because they are. This is what we mean by negatively reinforcing one another…alcoholism and depression can originate from different situations, but they cause the same terrible effects.

Hence why it’s possible to feel depressed after recovering from alcoholism. Recovery is an achievement, and worth celebrating! If you suffer from depression though, such a celebration seems pointless.

Depression Lingers after Alcoholism Recovery
If depression lingers after recovery from alcoholism, it’s a separate condition and needs its own treatment. Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash.

How do we address both alcoholism & depression when they intermingle like this?

Solution: Treat the Alcohol Problem and Depression Separately, as Co-Occurring Disorders

Since addiction and depression are separate conditions, they each need distinct treatment.

PLEASE NOTE: If you suffer from both alcoholism and depression, this does NOT mean you are “broken.” As you’ve just read, depression & alcoholism reinforce one another. They are conditions affecting the mind and body. Not signs of a ruined/hopeless life. You can resolve them both. Often by using similar techniques and structures in your daily life…techniques anyone can learn.

In the rehab field, this is called a co-occurring disorder. More than one condition happening at the same time, feeding on each other, dragging you down. (You can learn more about co-occurring disorders in our article, “What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?”.)

The best way to resolve them, is to treat them as separate, but interconnected conditions. For the alcoholism, you use one of the treatment programs we discuss in our Services pages.

For depression, you use a separate form of therapy. These are proven-effective examples:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – A form of therapy that helps people address problematic thoughts and feelings.
  • Holistic Therapy – A complement to other therapies. These include yoga, counseling, art therapy, etc.
  • Antidepressants – Medication to help restore proper chemical balance in the brain. Best used in concert with another therapy.
  • Support Groups – Good news! The same support groups you can visit for alcoholism, will often have the means to help you recover from depression. Our support groups do, as part of their co-occurring disorder training.

Which therapy works best for your depression depends on you. Your counselor will review the options and help you determine the best one.

Support is the Key to Recovering from Alcohol Abuse – and Depression

If you struggle with depression and alcohol addiction at the same time, you may feel it’s hopeless to do anything about it. It’s not. It’s just a different treatment process.

We know, from experience. Some of our team have recovered from depression, after they quit drinking. It’s not easy, and none of us will make it out like it is. But we do know for a fact that the effort is worth it.

Removing alcohol from your system does not mean that depression will suddenly evaporate. As we see here, depression can often precede drinking altogether. That’s why it can linger even after addiction treatment.

This is one of many reasons why we always encourage those in recovery to continue attending support groups. It helps you readjust to life, fosters healthy relationships…and yes, it helps you deal with depression.

If you feel you suffer from depression and don’t know what to do about it, whether or not you drink or use any drugs, please contact SSH. We will connect you with the help you need.

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