Effects of Alcohol & Substance Misuse On Depression (+ Cannabis, Alcohol & Depression)

Do you feel the urge to drink or use drugs when you are down and depressed? If so, you are not alone. Research shows that people with depression often tend to drink or use recreational drugs in order to suppress their feelings of sadness, pain, and anxiety and feel better. They are also more likely to drink and use drugs at higher rates compared to others.

The truth, however, is that if you are battling depression, drinking or using drugs is probably not a good idea, as it can worsen your symptoms considerably and adversely impact your mental health.

The Link Between Depression and Alcohol

One of the reasons why people with clinical depression tend to drink is that alcohol has a stimulating effect on the brain. When alcohol enters your system, it signals your brain to release dopamine and serotonin – which are commonly referred to as ‘feel-good’ chemicals and can make you feel happy. It can also increase your heart rate, lower your inhibitions, and make you feel energized – all of which are classic characteristics of a stimulant.

However, alcohol is primarily a depressant. While it can have a stimulating effect on the brain, it only tends to last for a brief period of time and only when consumed in low doses. The stimulating effect of alcohol tends to peak when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.05, after which it starts acting as a depressant.

Once the initial stimulant effects of alcohol wears off, your heart rate and blood pressure tend to reduce and cause you to feel foggy and drowsy. Also, higher doses of alcohol can adversely affect your brain’s ability to produce dopamine, which can cause you to feel sad and depressed. As a result, you might feel the need to drink again.

This process is called the “biphasic effect” of alcohol on mood.

Alcohol and Depression – A Vicious Cycle

One of the biggest risks associated with heavy drinking among people with depressive symptoms is that it can lead to a vicious cycle. When you feel low and depressed, you might drink in order to feel better. After the initial rush of energy and stimulation, you might revert back to feeling low, sad, and depressed, which can cause you to drink again. In other words, you drink alcohol because you feel depressed and you feel depressed because you drink alcohol.

alcohol and substance misuse

How Alcohol Consumption Can Affect Your Mental Health

It Can Worsen the Symptoms of Depressive Disorders

The depressive effects of alcohol can intensify feelings of pain, sadness, emptiness, and worthlessness and make you feel more depressed. Research shows that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to physiological, neurological, and metabolic changes that can significantly increase your risk of developing depressive disorders and worsen the symptoms of existing mental health disorders.

In fact, research shows that alcohol abuse and depression are co-occurring conditions in many people. One in five people with depression are known to have a substance use disorder. Similarly, one in five people with substance use disorder are known to have depression or anxiety disorders.

Heavy Drinking Lead to Poor Economic Outcomes

Alcohol misuse often leads to poor economic outcomes like loss of savings, debt, and loss of employment. The financial strain caused by these outcomes can worsen the symptoms of depression. Similarly, alcohol misuse can severely impair your judgment and cause you to act impulsively. As a result, you might make bad decisions that can affect you on a personal level as well as your loved ones, which in turn can worsen your depression.

 Heavy Drinking Affect Your Sexual and Reproductive Health

Alcohol misuse can inhibit the production of sex hormones in your body, lower your libido, and affect your sexual performance. As Shakespeare said “It doth provoke the desire but impair the performance.” (Macbeth). It can also increase your risk for infertility. The lack of satisfactory sex life can have a detrimental impact on your mental health and cause you to feel depressed.

 Heavy Drinking Prevent You from Seeking Positive Coping Mechanisms

One of the biggest risks associated with alcohol misuse is that it can prevent you from seeking healthy and positive mechanisms to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. As a result, whenever you are in an unpleasant mood, you might be tempted to drink – rather than choosing healthy and positive coping strategies like engaging in physical activities, meditating, talking to people you love, seeking emotional support from your loved ones, distancing yourself from the source of stress, identifying and avoiding stressors in everyday life, and so on. It can be extremely bad for your physical as well as mental health in the long term.

The Link Between Excessive Alcohol Consumption and Self Harm

One of the many dangers associated with heavy drinking is that it can trigger urges to self-harm – especially among people who are already battling depressive disorders. Research shows that excessive alcohol use can affect your brain’s functioning – especially in parts that are associated with self-control, inhibition, and mood regulation. The lack of inhibitory control caused by alcohol consumption can trigger or intensify a desire to self-harm and thoughts of suicide.

Studies show that excessive alcohol use is also linked to extreme forms of mental disorders like psychosis. Alcohol misuse over a prolonged period of time can affect your brain’s functioning to such an extent that you might start experiencing hallucinations and delusions of persecution – which can cause you to take harmful actions that you might never take under normal circumstances.

The Unique Risks Associated with Alcohol Dependence

One of the reasons why excessive alcohol abuse has become such a widespread problem in our society is that drinking is considered a normal and acceptable behavior. No matter what the occasion is – passing an exam, engagement, wedding, birth of a child, birthday, anniversary, clearing an interview, or any other happy or memorable occasion – people like to have a drink or two to celebrate it.

It might not be a problem as long as you consume alcohol occasionally and in moderation. When you exceed what is considered a low-risk limit (1 drink for women and 2 for men), you increase your risk of developing a wide range of physical and mental health problems.

It should be noted that using recreational drugs can be just as harmful to your health as drinking alcohol. However, using drugs is not normalized or mainstreamed to the extent that drinking is. There is still an element of taboo associated with drug use, which prevents many people from using them on a regular basis.

More importantly, there are strict laws in place to curb the possession, use, and sale of recreational drugs. Alcohol, on the other hand, is cheap, available everywhere, and drinking is considered a taboo in only a few countries. As a result, there are no barriers in place to prevent people with depression and other disorders from drinking excessively.

The Link Between Substance Use and Depression

Just like alcohol use, the link between substance use and depressive disorders is also bi-directional. People with depressive disorders are more likely to use recreational or illicit drugs and people who use recreational or illicit drugs are more likely to develop depressive disorders.

Marijuana Use and Depression

Cannabis is extremely common among people suffering from depression. Studies show that people with depression are twice as likely to use marijuana compared to those who do not have it. With marijuana being decriminalized and legalized in many states, it has become easier than ever before for people to use marijuana.

Marijuana can ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders and make you feel better in the short term. However, as is the case with alcohol, heavy or prolonged use of marijuana can worsen the symptoms of depression and harm your mental health.

Regular use of marijuana can lower your motivation and prevent you from engaging in physically and mentally stimulating activities. Due to the short-term relief it provides, marijuana use can also create a false sense of well-being, which can prevent you from seeking the help you need to treat and manage your depression.

The most notable risk associated with marijuana use – recreational marijuana use in particular – is that it can blunt your senses, impair your memory, and affect your ability to process and respond to external stimuli.

Studies also show that even the occasional use of marijuana can be harmful among those who are genetically predisposed to depressive disorders, schizophrenia, and psychosis.

Stimulant Use and Depression

Many people with a major depressive disorder and other mental health conditions also tend to use stimulants like cocaine and meth in order to ease their symptoms and improve their mood.

Stimulants tend to act on your sympathetic nervous system, trigger what is called the “fight or flight” response, and signal your brain to release norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a stress hormone which can increase blood flow to your muscles, release more glucose into your blood, elevate your heart rate, and improve your alertness. Stimulants like cocaine are also known to increase the production of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine. As a result, you might feel extremely happy and energetic.

The problem – as is the case with alcohol use – is that the high caused by using stimulant drugs is inevitably followed by a crash, which can make you feel worse and intensify the symptoms of depression. Once the effect of the stimulant wears off, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness

The compounded effect of these symptoms can make you feel more depressed than you felt before, as a result of which you might be tempted to use more drugs.

How Excessive Use of Stimulants Can Affect Your Mental Health

Using stimulant drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine on a prolonged basis can lead to a wide range of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Among those who are already suffering from depressive disorders, chronic use of stimulants can trigger and intensify feelings of restlessness, agitation, and paranoia.

Amphetamines like meth, on the other hand, are far more dangerous than cocaine and can severely damage your mental health in the long term. Just like cocaine, meth also acts on the pleasure centers of your brain and triggers the release of dopamine.

The surge of dopamine can make you feel strong, energetic, and euphoric for a short while, after which you will come crashing down and feel more hopeless and more depressed than ever before. The cycle of high and low caused by stimulant use can lead to persistent depressive disorder, which is characterized by feelings of despair and worthlessness that can last for several weeks or even months.

The short-term improvement in depression symptoms can leave you craving for more stimulants on a more frequent basis. Chronic use of these stimulants can severely impact the pleasure centers of your brain. As a result, you might have to increase the dose of drugs or use them more often in order to experience the same level of alertness and euphoria. After a point, your brain might become so accustomed to the chemical surges caused by stimulants that you might no longer be able to feel pleasure naturally.

Regular use of stimulant drugs can cause you to develop paranoid tendencies, as a result of which you might not be able to trust anyone – including your loved ones and well-wishers. Chronic use of stimulants – especially among those who are already suffering from persistent depressive disorder and other such problems – can trigger feelings of paranoia and hallucinations.

Does Cannabis Consumption Intensify the Depressive Effects of Alcohol? What The Research Shows

While cannabis is often viewed as a depressant, research suggests it may actually worsen depression symptoms when combined with heavy alcohol use.

Several studies have found that concurrent cannabis and alcohol use is associated with higher rates of depressive disorders compared to using either substance alone:

  • A 2019 study found the odds of major depression were 4 times higher for those using both alcohol and cannabis compared to alcohol alone (1).
  • A large 2020 study of over 300,000 people found the highest rates of depression among those using both alcohol and cannabis frequently (2).
  • A 2021 analysis of multiple studies concluded that co-use of alcohol and cannabis conferred greater risk for depression than single use of either (3).

A few key reasons this combination may heighten depression risk include:

  • Alcohol reduces cannabis’ pleasurable effects, leading to using more cannabis to compensate. This heightened intoxication increases depression vulnerability (4).
  • Withdrawal from both substances may compound feelings of irritability, sadness, and anxiety during “hangover” periods (5).
  • The impaired thinking and reduced motivation associated with using both may negatively impact life functioning, deepening depressive feelings (6).
  • Cannabis use can exacerbate alcohol’s sleep disruptive effects. Poor sleep exacerbates mood disorders (7).

For those already prone to depression, concurrent alcohol and cannabis misuse appears to create a synergistic effect, amplifying depressive symptoms and complications.

Moderating or abstaining from both substances, particularly together, can help stabilize moods. Counseling and lifestyle changes also address root causes driving co-occurring depression and substance misuse (8).

Struggling with Alcohol or Substance Use Related Problems? CheckUp & Choices Can Help You.

If you are concerned that your drinking habit might affect your mental health or if you are already battling mental health problems and worried that your drinking habit could worsen them, CheckUp & Choices can help you keep your drinking habit in check and take back control of your life.

Our program is designed for those who are struggling with alcohol or drug use and want to make impactful changes in life. It consists of two parts – the CheckUp and the Choices.

The CheckUp consists of a series of assessments that can help you evaluate your drinking habit and find out what causes you to drink, how your drinking affects your life, and to what extent.

The Choices part provides you with the plans and strategies you need to moderate your drinking or completely abstain from drinking. You can also use other modules to make changes in your use of marijuana (cannabis), stimulants, and compulsive gambling.

Ours is an evidence-based program that is built on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement. The effectiveness of our program in helping moderate or quit drinking habits has been evaluated in randomized clinical trials. People who have participated in our program have reported a significant reduction in drinking frequency and drinking and alcohol-related problems.

One of the best aspects of our program is that it does not tell you what you should do or should not do. We provide you with the information you need to assess your drinking or substance use and let you decide whether you want to change it… Once you make the choice, we provide you with the tools and strategies you need to achieve the outcome you want. Our interactive program can provide you with valuable feedback and help you stay on track until you achieve your goals and transform your life.

We are so confident about the effectiveness of our program that we offer a money-back guarantee. If you are not satisfied with our program or if you are unable to achieve the outcome you want, you can get your money back. In other words, there is no risk whatsoever in trying our program – only upsides.

To find out more about our program and to learn how you can benefit from it, feel free to browse our website and take a Free alcohol screener today! We can guarantee you that getting in touch with us will be one of the best decisions you will ever make in your life. today! We can guarantee you that getting in touch with us will be one of the best decisions you will ever make in your life. today! We can guarantee you that getting in touch with us will be one of the best decisions you will ever make in your life. today! We can guarantee you that getting in touch with us will be one of the best decisions you will ever make in your life.

References:

  1. Bahorik et al., Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2019
  2. Jackson et al., Addiction, 2020
  3. González-Seijo et al., Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2021
  4. Subbaraman & Kerr, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2015
  5. Cornelius et al., Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2010
  6. Foster et al., Journal of Substance Abuse, 2016
  7. Wang et al., Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2016
  8. Baker et al., Depression and Anxiety, 2012