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Stuck in the loop: depression and wine

Updated: Mar 30

This post is quite personal, so I thought I’d include a photo of myself looking genuinely happy, despite going through a deeply dark and depressed phase in my life.

Alcohol and Depression - a counsellor's story
Me - at the peak of a big low.

 

It was about 10 years ago, at the dawn of my thirties, although it now seems like another life, I probably went through depression. I didn’t even acknowledge that at the time. I realised it after quitting alcohol. That was my darkest period mentally and 'alcoholly' as well.

 

Yes, there were circumstantial events making me feel more miserable. I did struggle to find my tribe in Perth. My best friends were all in Montreal, and I missed them so much, but I wanted to live here. I felt torn and very lonely. My partner started working FIFO, and that added more loneliness to my days and weekends especially. Still, I just thought I had to toughen up. To top it off, I was working for a company where there was a lot of toxicity in my department. I was bullied, I felt like a total failure, and my confidence was so low that I didn’t even think it was worth it to find another job. But because I perceived myself as strong, I kept it while changing career, going to uni, and getting ready for a new move that also involved becoming a business owner. That project kept me sane and got me out of the dip of my depression.

 

And when I go back in time and visit those memories, I feel so sad for this lost girl, depressed, lonely, and sabotaging her life and health. This is when my drinking escalated the most in the darkest ways. We were living in a small apartment, and when I was drinking a few wines, I was also smoking a few cigarettes like in the good old party days of my early twenties. It was nostalgic for me, a way to keep me connected to another reality. As you know if you live in Australia, especially in Perth, smoking cigarettes is extremely negatively perceived. To make sure I wasn’t feeling more ashamed than I felt, I was sitting on the floor of my balcony so nobody would see me smoke, and I would drink my wine. Some days, my ‘happy hour’ would start pretty early, like mid-afternoon. That was a write-off for the rest of the day and the evening, but I didn’t feel I was missing out because I thought there was nothing to look forward to. Those were my saddest days. But my drinking didn’t increase abruptly. It was gradual and sneaky. The more I was drinking, the less social I was because I was busy with my friend 'Vino.'

 

It was over 10 years ago now. It still does feel a bit like yesterday as the memories of my shame and lowest days are very vivid. This is also when I did wonder if I was an alcoholic. I knew that often I was partying hard and drinking more than my friends, but that drinking by myself was new and it was worrying me. But the word ‘alcoholic’ didn’t resonate with me at all because I could take long breaks as well.

 

The thing with alcohol and depression is that they go hand in hand together. It’s even like the chicken and the egg. What came first? Yes, there were circumstances, but would they have been felt as harshly if my confidence and self-respect were higher? If the alcohol, a depressant, and a neurotoxin, wouldn’t have changed my brain neurotransmitters, would I have reached such a low point? Because when it started to be bad at work, my partner wasn’t FIFO yet, and we were seeing friends and partying. Yet, my drinking was weekly most months of the year, and the quantities were high, but my mental health wasn’t in the ditch yet. Or were the things that happened to me the ones that pushed me towards depression, where I felt the need to numb myself. Of course, I don’t have the answer for sure.

 

However, I know that since quitting alcohol, I rarely have this feeling of heavy gloom on me. I feel like I can manage my emotions most days, even when I have a really high level of stress and anxiety (like waiting for my partner’s medical results to rule out cancer – which always hit hard on me as we went through that a few years ago and yes, it is a big trauma for me).

 

In my personal opinion, which isn’t scientific evidence but my own reflection and experience, I think alcohol amplified the challenges and possibly a mild depression and made everything worse. And scientifically, what’s the take on it? There is not a clear black and white answer. In the article "Alcohol, Anxiety, and Depressive Disorders," written by Marc A. Schuckit, M.D., it is explained that:

 

‘As a typical depressant, alcohol affects the brain in many ways, and it is likely that high doses will cause feelings of sadness (i.e., depression) during intoxication that evolve into feelings of nervousness (i.e., anxiety) during the subsequent hangover and withdrawal. The greater the amounts of alcohol consumed and the more regular the intake, the more likely a person will be to develop temporary anxiety and depressive symptoms. As consumption increases even more, these symptoms also are likely to intensify.’

 

The link between alcohol and depression.
Depression and Alcohol are inextricably related.

And when it comes to alcohol, depression, and dopamine, which is one of the neurotransmitters impacted in the process, research clearly indicates that the natural baseline of dopamine will drop for a prolonged period for an individual who is drinking often. This information is from 'Alcohol Think Again' website:

 

‘Our brains rely on a fine balance of chemicals and processes to regulate mood and emotions. Over time, alcohol use can lead to the depletion of chemicals that have an important role in maintaining our mental health and help to reduce anxiety naturally. 

Like many drugs, alcohol also stimulates receptors in the brain that release dopamine, the chemical responsible for pleasure.2 This tricks your body into feeling pleasure and associating drinking alcohol with positive feelings. But the more you drink, the less dopamine your body releases, and this can lead to prolonged feelings of low mood.’


If you’re feeling very low and stuck in the vicious trap of alcohol and depression, please know that you’re not alone, and you’re not broken. If you think that talking to an alcohol addiction counsellor would help you, feel free to contact me. You can book a free inquiry call directly and see for yourself if that could suit you.

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