Many depressed people, especially when they do not realise they are suffering from an illness, drink more alcohol, in the hope that they will get at least temporary relief from the emotional suffering they are experiencing. 


On the other side of the coin, heavy alcohol intake gives people many symptoms of depression.  The combination of severe depression and heavy alcohol intake is very difficult, as it makes depression very difficult to treat, and the combination of depression and alcohol significantly increases the risk of suicide due to depression.


Depression induced by excessive alcohol intake

Despite the intense publicity concerning the use of marijuana and a range of illegal drugs, the substance most widely abused all over the world is alcohol.  Very often, the person involved regards his or her intake of alcohol as fairly normal, although they may secretly be aware that they have been unable to consistently cut down their alcohol intake, and usually have had friends or family members express concern at the amount they drink.

It is difficult to be sure what is an inappropriate level of alcohol intake.  From a physical point of view, men’s bodies can metabolise alcohol more effectively than women’s bodies, and are therefore more resistant to physical damage as a result of regular excessive alcohol intake.


When it comes to personality damage and general mental damage, it does seem that a daily intake of 4 to 5 standard measures of alcohol per day over a period of time will almost inevitably cause negative personality changes and psychological effects.


The symptoms of excessive alcohol intake are really indistinguishable from the symptoms of depression itself.  In both conditions, people feel quite miserable (with perhaps a few hours of being less miserable while actually under the influence of alcohol), people feel tense, and they are usually very irritable and quick to get angry.  Both conditions cause people to lose interest and motivation, so that they become detached from family relationships and friendships (except perhaps with those who are their drinking partners).  People lose a lot of their ability to concentrate, to think clearly, and lose memory function, so that they become quite absent-minded.  It is not surprising that people affected by these problems are markedly less productive in their work, and indeed are more at risk of having accidents.  People affected by excessive alcohol intake, or by depression, often lose interest in sex.  Also, both conditions interfere with sleep.  Many people drinking excessive alcohol claim they do so to help them sleep, but the medical reality is that they are waking up in the middle of the night due to the early stages of alcohol addiction, with alcohol withdrawal occurring a few hours after they last consumed alcohol.


If you are drinking heavily, and are concerned about the effects upon you, it is very useful to see if you can actually reduce your alcohol intake, and preferably gradually stop it completely for about three to four weeks.  Many people, who apparently are severely depressed, recover dramatically from this simple intervention.  Your own doctor can give you some medication to cover any unpleasant withdrawal effects during this short period, if necessary.



Increased intake of alcohol due to depression

It is very common for people to have a drink of alcohol to unwind at the end of a long or stressful day.  The reduction in tension or anxiety brought about by alcohol is quite a welcome feeling for many people.  One or two standard drinks for this effect is quite normal behaviour.  However, when people start to slide into a mixture of depression and anxiety (both conditions usually go together), it is very common for them to increase their intake of alcohol, as they strive to overcome the symptoms.  Often, the person themselves is not aware that they are gradually increasing their intake of alcohol as they try to deal with the unpleasant feelings they have internally.  Drinking alcohol or taking non-prescribed drugs to change the way you FEEL IS a very risky pathway.


The problem with using alcohol (or indeed substances such as marijuana/cannabis or illicit drugs) to change a person’s emotions is that the change only lasts a few hours, and a rebound effect takes place.  Therefore, as the alcohol or other substance loses its effect, any temporary improvement is followed immediately by a worsening of symptoms.  Especially if this pattern is repeated, the symptoms of depression and anxiety temporarily improve, then worsen, and often end up worse than ever.  A useful comparison is that using alcohol or other substances to change the way you feel is like borrowing money on a credit card!  You have to give back everything you get, and a bit extra, so you actually end up a bit worse off than when you started.  In addition to the chemical work involved in trying to automatically correct the chemical imbalances involved in depression, your body now has the extra chemical work of trying deal with metabolising alcohol and the other components of alcoholic drinks.



Depression, alcohol and suicide

Untreated depressive illness carries with it a high suicide rate.  Uncontrolled alcohol abuse also carries with it a high suicide rate, as the person involved becomes depressed, loses careers, families and friends, and faces a bleak future socially and from a health point of view.  The combination of alcohol abuse and depression is therefore a potentially lethal situation.


Most suicide attempts, fatal or otherwise, occur when people have consumed alcohol.  It seems your logic is washed away by alcohol, and your instinct to survive is therefore weakened.  It is therefore very important if you are suffering depressive illness, not to drink alcohol until the illness has recovered, or at least restrict your alcohol intake to about 2 standard drinks of alcohol per day.  It is believed that loss of impulse control typically takes place when people have had 3 or 4 drinks, and this is obviously a situation which may lead to self- destructive behaviour in someone who has suicidal thoughts due to depression.




The comments above about alcohol also apply to cannabis. However, as cannabis has a very long duration of action in the body (days rather than hours), the impact is longer. And teenage brains are more vulnerable to damage than adult brains are.


Regular use of marijuana has been shown to markedly increase rates of depression, and of schizophrenia also unfortunately, especially in teenagers. 


Important Disclaimer:  This site is medical information only, and is not to be taken as diagnosis, advice or treatment, which can only be decided by your own doctor.

One thought on “Alcohol and Cannabis

  1. Serah Shineman says:

    Your right Dr. Horgan, I found that when my anxiety would build, so would my need for alcohol. This up-and-down roller coaster will not end until I hit rock bottom. Drinking alcohol at the end of the stressful day, I now see as a deception. What I mean is that when the depression set in, I would use alcohol to uplift my spirit. This was a self-talk that had me in an eventual confusion of how much damage I caused by all the drinking I did. I really appreciate you putting up this blog Dr. Horgan, these are topics that you covered truthfully, instead of beating around the bush and not telling it like it is, unlike some of the counselors that I had spoken to before overcame my small addiction to dealing with depression using alcohol, again thank you Dr.

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