What Is Depression?
Depression is defined as a prolonged period of feeling sad, lonely, hopeless, lost, worthless, devoid of energy, apathetic, and even suicidal. There are many forms of depression. Almost everyone goes through at least a few periods of depression during their life. For some individuals, however, the problem is much more severe and protracted. While the causes of depression are not clearly understood, they include a number of genetic, environmental, and personal factors. Depression can severely impact a person’s personal and professional life and potentially even lead to suicide.
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There are several types of depression, including:
- Major depressive disorder – Sufferers experience very severe depression symptoms that interfere with their ability to function. Some individuals have only 1 episode, but most have several throughout their lives. Individuals with major depressive disorder typically cycle through episodes of feeling very depressed and then periods of feeling symptom-free. This is the most common form of depression in the United States.
- Persistent depressive disorder – A depressed mood that lasts for 2 or more years. In some cases, this can be a lifelong condition. Also called dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder is a continuous, long-term, low-grade depression.
- Psychotic depression – Sufferers experience both severe depression and some form of psychosis, including audio and visual hallucinations or having false beliefs or delusions.
- Postpartum depression – This form of depression is caused by the hormonal and physical changes associated with pregnancy and giving birth as well as the new responsibilities of caring for a newborn. Between 10 and 15% of new mothers experience postpartum depression.
- Seasonal affective disorder – Depression symptoms begin during the late fall and winter months as the amount of daily sunlight decreases. In many cases, light therapy is helpful for treating this condition.
- Bipolar disorder – No longer generally considered a form of depression, sufferers of this group of closely related mental conditions alternate between periods of depression and periods of mania (a state of heightened and exaggerated moods). Also known as manic depression or bipolar depression, bipolar disorder is more often than not misdiagnosed as depression; most sufferers initially seek treatment for being depressed and do not understand or report the typically less frequent manic episodes.
The Relationship Between Alcohol And Depression
Alcohol abuse and depression are very closely correlated. Many depression sufferers, especially ones who have not been properly diagnosed, often turn to alcohol to escape. Desperate to feel better or numb the pain, even for a little while, depression sufferers often use the pleasurable effects of alcohol for that purpose. Alcohol abuse is rampant among sufferers of depression. At least 30%-40% of alcoholics also experience a depressive disorder.
People are often seduced by the sedating effects of alcohol and use it as a kind of medication to help distract them from persistent feelings of sadness. Alcohol may appear to temporarily relieve some of the symptoms of depression. However, it ultimately worsens depression on a long-term basis. As consequences of alcohol abuse persist, depression worsens. This often leads to a damaging cycle of abusing alcohol to self-medicate symptoms of depression while the depression worsens due to the continued alcohol abuse.
Alcohol is a Central Nervous System Depressant that slows the body down. Studies have consistently shown that alcohol use increases both the duration and the severity of depressive episodes. It also increases the likelihood, frequency, and severity of suicidal thoughts. Alcohol can also cause other stressors in life, such as career and family problems that worsen depression. If the depressed person then turns to alcohol to make themselves feel better, a vicious cycle has started that can be extremely difficult to break out of.
Alcoholism can also cause depression in some circumstances. Prolonged alcohol abuse can drastically change and rewire the brain as well as impact many other chemical balances in the body. This is particularly true of the brain’s neurotransmitters, which send electric and chemical impulses and control a great deal of the body and mind’s functioning. These systemic changes can cause depression.
Symptoms Of Depression
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed or important activities
- Sadness or feeling down
- Lack of energy and tiredness
- Low self-esteem
- Trouble with concentration
- Difficulty making decisions
- Anger and irritability
- Decreased activity and productivity
- Change in appetite leading to weight loss or gain
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Suicidal thoughts
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Depression Treatment Options
Depression is a very serious condition that can create serious problems for sufferers, including damaged personal relationships, limited chances at success, numerous medical conditions, reduced enjoyment of life, and — in some cases — even suicide. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that only a small percentage of depression sufferers seek treatment. Not only do many people associate depression with a number of false stigmas, such weakness, depression itself creates feelings of hopelessness that eliminate the motivation to seek help. This is especially true in men, who are much less likely to seek help for depression than women.
Luckily, there are dozens of treatment options available to you or a loved one who is suffering from depression. For many individuals, depression will abate with time and treatment. For others, the condition may be a lifelong struggle; treatment can dramatically improve the quality of and extend the length of life, however. Because depression is so prevalent among alcoholics, almost all treatment centers have a great deal of experience helping patients overcome both conditions. Regardless of which treatment option you choose, it is important that you seek treatment as quickly as possible.
In most cases, depression must be treated with a combination of therapies. Some of the most common include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Holistic therapy
- Other types of therapy and counseling
- Support groups
Please note that it is critically important to treat alcohol use disorders and depression simultaneously.
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Even though it may seem like depression and alcohol have formed a downward spiral from which there is no escape, that’s just not true. Help is out there. Contact a treatment provider to discuss treatment options today.