Alcohol and depression: Breaking the cycle – Insider

Alcohol and depression: Breaking the cycle – Insider

  • Your mood may temporarily lift when you drink, but alcohol usually makes depression worse over time.
  • You may need to drink more to get the same effects, and other coping methods may no longer work. 
  • If you want to stop drinking, therapy and free programs like AA and SMART Recovery can help.

If you’ve ever used alcohol to deal with feelings of depression, you may have found that after your buzz wears off, you’re left feeling even lower than before. 

The connection between drinking alcohol and depression is a complicated “the chicken or the egg” conundrum. 

Evidence suggests that drinking alcohol can increase your risk of depression — but depression may also lead to increased alcohol use. In fact, some research suggests people who have a history of alcohol dependence are 3.7 times more likely to experience major depression. 

But the connection also works in reverse. According to one 2021 study, when people with alcohol use disorder quit drinking, their symptoms of depression improved significantly.

Below, people who experienced this connection firsthand share how their drinking and depression fueled each other — and how they ended the cycle.

1. “The next day, I always felt horrible.”

Beginning at the age of 14, Kelley Kitley, a psychotherapist in private practice, recalls sleeping a lot, losing her appetite, withdrawing socially, and having negative thoughts about herself. She soon began going to therapy and taking antidepressants, but continued to experience bouts of depression from time to time — especially after the birth of her four children.

Shortly after becoming a mother, Kitley began coping with her depression through binge drinking.

“Drinking provided a wonderful escape from my own head. I felt more laid back. But the next day, I always felt horrible and I’d swear off drinking,” she says.

As a licensed therapist, Kitley knew the signs of depression and substance abuse — in fact, she attended an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting as part of her required grad school training. 

Once she began feeling pangs of shame while drinking heavily after work, she decided to go back to AA. Kitley continues to use this fellowship as a resource while working on her sobriety.

After getting sober, Kitley’s cravings for alcohol continued for about a year — particularly during stressful or challenging times. However, she says finding a community of fellow sober moms, and returning to therapy as needed, has helped her to stay the course. Since quitting drinking, Kitley says her mood is the most consistent it’s ever been.

“Everything improved,” Kitley says. “My relationships, my self-worth, my sleep, and even my overall health and well-being.”

Kitley ultimately decided to detail her experiences with drinking and depression in her autobiography, “MY self.”

2. “A real craving to escape”

Award-winning filmmaker, actor, and musician Sabyn Mayfield recalls feeling persistent sadness and loneliness from a young age — though he didn’t recognize these as signs of depression until adulthood.

After drinking alcohol for the first time during adolescence, Mayfield describes immediately feeling more outgoing and less inhibited. 

“Initially, it seemed like a magic potion — the cure for my depression,” he says. But not long after, he says he …….


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