drinking and depression
The Correlation Between Drinking and Depression

For those wondering about drinking and depression, it can be confusing to navigate the abundance of mixed research available today. Some studies suggest that just one serving of alcohol per week can lead to cancer and other serious diseases, while others find that alcohol consumption is linked to longevity and better overall health. But despite what the data shows, it’s safe to say that too much alcohol can be harmful to anyone’s physical wellbeing.

But what about the effects of alcohol on mental health? We’re living in a time when more people than ever before are suffering from depression and anxiety. Nearly 40 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with anxiety disorders every year—that’s over 18% of the population. However, less than 40% of those with anxiety disorders seek treatment. And when depression and anxiety are left untreated, people are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to ease their symptoms.

New Study Links Alcohol to Women’s Mental Health

Last month, researchers published a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) which found that women who quit alcohol completely greatly improve their mental wellbeing. The study analyzed the drinking habits and self-reported levels of mental health of more than 31,000 moderate drinkers in the United States, and over 10,000 in China. 

According to the data, men and women who never drank alcohol at any point in their lives had the best mental health scores. But after the study concluded, researchers determined that quitting alcohol was associated with better mental wellbeing in women, but less so in men. In fact, the study found that women who stopped drinking approached the same levels of mental health reported by lifetime abstainers within four years of quitting alcohol.

According to Herbert Pang, co-author of the study, “Our findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life.” Contrary to similar research on the correlation between alcohol and health, this report in the CMAJ has determined that quitting drinking completely could significantly help women with depression and anxiety improve their condition. 

Why Is This Data Important?

In today’s society—and in the United States especially—drinking has become a major part of daily life. In fact, alcohol consumption around the world has increased by 70% from just 30 years ago. There’s an unspoken rule that it’s acceptable to enjoy a drink or two each night, binge drink on the weekends, or go to a “boozy brunch” with friends. And it’s important to note that people drink alcohol for different reasons. Some use it as a way to relax, to calm their nerves, or even as a sleep aid. 

And let’s look at women’s alcohol use specifically. Many new mothers battle postpartum depression after childbirth. Some women balancing a career with childcare use drinking a way to ease the stress of a long and busy day. Many women harmlessly enjoy a glass of wine while they make dinner, and have a second as they help their kids with homework. In social situations, like book clubs or birthday parties, there is probably a good chance that alcohol is involved in the mix. 

So, we know that alcohol use is increasing significantly, and so are the number of people living with depression and anxiety. Based on this new data reported in CMAJ, we can conclude that alcohol is one of the major factors fueling the surge of depression and anxiety in women today. And it makes sense—existing data shows that women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression, and women are more likely than men to drink heavily when they’re feeling down. 

Curbing Alcohol Consumption to Improve Mental Health

Looking back at the CMAJ data, it’s important to note that someone with depression doesn’t have to be a heavy drinker, or have a diagnosed alcohol problem, to fuel their mental health challenges. The study suggests that even moderate drinkers—a maximum of seven drinks per week for women—can improve their depression by cutting alcohol out of their diet. Here are a few ways that women with depression can ease their symptoms, and begin to restore their mental wellbeing:

  1. Seek Treatment for Your Depression

As mentioned above, only 40% of people with depression seek treatment. When depression and anxiety are untreated and ignored, the chance of overusing alcohol significantly increases. There are many different types of treatment for depression, many of which do not require antidepressants and other medications. Look into treatments like behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or transcranial magnetic stimulation.

  1. Find Alternatives to Alcohol

If you know that certain places or situations trigger your desire for alcohol, find ways to replace a drink with something healthier. At the end of a long workday, try swapping alcohol for seltzer water, diet soda, or ice tea. If you’re going to a birthday party or summer barbecue, mix up a mocktail that everyone can share. If you can’t bear the thought of going to a bar on a Friday night, ask a friend to meet you for ice cream, or go for an evening coffee date.

  1. Focus on Activities That Make You Feel Good

Having a beer or cocktail at the end of the day might make you feel relaxed in the moment, but one glass can quickly turn into two or three, which usually results in a less-than-pleasant morning after. To relieve symptoms of depression, do things that make you feel happy, mentally and physically. Maybe that’s treating yourself to a manicure, spending a day at the beach, or plan an exciting trip that will give you something to look forward to each day. 

If you’re suffering from depression and anxiety, we can help. Pulse offers a variety of treatments and personalized plans that can restore your mental wellbeing. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Article By: Chris Howard
Director of Community Outreach & Education Chris Howard has been working in the mental health field since 2010 after seeing the long-term effects of mental illness within his own family. He is a graduate of UCLA where he received his B.A. in Psychology. Having worked closely with those struggling with addiction, Chris considers the concept of community to be an essential part of treatment and advocates for wellness approaches that integrate both leading conventional therapies, as well as holistic practices like yoga and meditation.