Who doesn’t like to toast the holidays with a glass of wine or festive cocktail? Having a drink can lower inhibitions, enhance a pleasant event or temporarily relieve the stress of a difficult one. However, if you’re feeling a little blue in the midst of all the merrymaking – you might want to think twice before downing multiple drinks – because alcohol can actually make you feel worse.
‘But I feel great when I drink!’
You might think it strange that alcohol is classified as a depressant because it feels good to drink and can provide a little lift.
The fact is that alcohol slows down the central nervous system, causing a decrease in motor coordination, reaction time and intellectual performance. While it temporarily blunts the effects of stress hormones like cortisol, it also depresses the brain and central nervous system at the same time. When the alcohol wears off, you will experience a rebound effect resulting in more stress and depression than you felt before you picked up that drink.
Alcohol and depression go hand in hand
Depression and alcohol problems occur in both men and women, but in men alcohol use usually precedes the depression. Alcohol has been found to lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels, two neurotransmitters associated with depression. The acute depressant effect of alcohol increases as blood alcohol content rises. Depressive symptoms have been detected from blood alcohol content levels as low as 0.03 – roughly the equivalent of one to two drinks – and that’s after sobering up.
Know the signs of depression
People with any symptoms of depression should not drink. Here’s why. In the past 15 years, the number of people seeking treatment for depression has doubled. Americans, 65 and older, account for about 13 percent of the population, but almost 20 percent of all completed suicides. Men are more likely to complete suicide and the risk for completed suicide increases as you age. Symptoms of depression include:
- Increased or decreased sleep or appetite
- Absence of pleasure in things you used to enjoy including sex
- Irritability, feeling hopeless or helpless
- Diminished ability to concentrate
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Re-occurring thoughts of death, including thoughts of suicide
What to do if you’re at risk
If you have any of the symptoms of depression, it’s important to get help. Your primary care physician is the best place to start, but not always the quickest. If you are having suicidal thoughts, that is considered a medical emergency. In the Rochester area you can access help immediately by contacting Lifeline at (585) 275-5151 or by getting to the nearest hospital emergency department.
The most effective treatment for depression is a combination of medication and talk therapy. It is a very treatable condition.
Kevin A. Coffey, L.C.S.W., CGP, Ed.D., is the social work clinical coordinator for outpatient services in the URMC Dept. of Psychiatry. He primarily provides clinical evaluations to patients and facilitates group therapy sessions. He also is a Senior Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry and has a faculty practice in the department. He has worked at the University of Rochester Medical Center for 18 years.