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Depression and Alcohol E-mail



The goal of this website is to give support to people who are feeling depressed and unhappy with their lives. I am living in Europe and English is not my native language, I wish you will excuse me if I make some grammatical errors. I have a background in neuroscience and I am currently doing brain research in university in my home country. I decided to write in English because I wish to reach as many people as I can around the world.



Depressed Brain - Effects of Alcohol

When one feels depressed, one might start to use excessive amount of alcohol while seeking emotional relief. Alcohol consumption may bring a momentary relief, however in a long run it only makes one feel more depressed. Several studies have shown that the neuronal activity level in certain areas of the brain has decreased in depressed people when compared to healthy people who do not perceive themselves as being depressed.

Alcohol is effectively "paralyzing" the brain, decreasing the neuronal activity level even more and hence resulting in stronger feeling of anxiety and depression, especially after the effect of alcohol has worn out. For this reason, depressed people should avoid using excessive amounts of alcohol while they are trying to recover.

Biological mechanism of alcohol function in the brain

In physiological terms alcohol is called a depressant, because it decreases neuronal activity in certain areas of the brain. When one drinks alcohol the level of neuronal activity in certain brain areas drops. The brain is trying to compensate this by bringing the activity back to the baseline level.

When the effect of alcohol starts to wear out, consequently the neuronal activity level of the brain starts to increase towards normal level. However, due to compensatory processes that are still active, the net neuronal activity will eventually be above the original baseline. This excessive activity in the neuronal networks results in anxious, nervous feeling that is typical during the hangover.

Depression, anxiety and hangover

From a biological perspective depression and anxiety are two very different conditions. In the brain of a depressed person the activity has dropped in certain areas, whereas in the brain of an anxious person the activity in certain areas has increased. Anxious person may feel as if there is "an iron wire around the head", whereas depressed person may feel too tired to take any initiative and lacks interest towards life in general.

When a person is experiencing hangover after drinking, the level of activity in certain areas in the brain can fluctuate rapidly. These fluctuations in the neuronal activity level can make a depressed person feel worse. For this reason it is wise to avoid excessive alcohol consumption if one is suffering of depression.

In addition to decreasing the level of neuronal activity, alcohol prevents the formation of new neuronal connections, leading to problems with memory and learning. The formation of new neuronal connections is crucial for formation of new memories and the ability to learn new skills. In order to recover from depression, the brain of a depressed individual has to be able to form new neuronal connections. If a depressed person consumes large amounts of alcohol, he/she is effectively preventing the brain from recovering.

How one can help a depressed brain to heal

Instead of seeking relief from alcohol, the best thing a depressed person can do is to make it into one's goal to help the brain to recover and form new connections as effectively as possible. If one uses too much alcohol, it is not uncommon to dwell on self-accusations and guilt related to drinking. These negative feelings will not help a depressed person to heal, instead they will further aggravate the condition.

Many depressed people claim that when they stopped using alcohol, the mere knowledge that they were actually doing something concrete that helped their brain to recover was enough to make them feel slightly better, and they were able to use that tiny sparkle of energy to start to do things that further aided their healing. Luckily there are many small things that one can do to help the brain to recover. To read more about this topic, see page Ways to treat depression without medication.


To read more about depression and how to help one's brain to recover, please see sections Depression - General and Depression - Science.

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