Man seated drinking a beer with a friend

"Be aware of the reasoning and motives behind why you are drinking, and make sure that you don’t use it as a means of dealing with the struggles of life."

Alcohol and depression have a complicated relationship. Studies have shown that the presence of alcohol dependency or depression doubles the risk of the other. [1]

On the one hand, drinking too much alcohol over the long term can lead to a higher risk of developing depression. [2] Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, impairing our thinking, our metabolism, our relationships, and our ability to function at our best in every aspect of life. In short, problematic levels of drinking can make us feel terrible, perform poorly in life, and then feel worse about ourselves because of that – which can lead to depression. And because alcohol is addictive, the more we use it, the harder it is to stop and the more entrenched the pattern becomes. [3]

On the other hand, struggling with various mental health challenges, like depression, without support from others can make us feel like a failure, isolated, hopeless, and looking for respite from our emotional turmoil. Alcohol is commonly used to escape from such pain, offering temporary relief, but ultimately making us feel worse about ourselves. More alcohol, more often, is used to keep the pain at bay – and with this, the vicious cycle between alcohol and depression becomes ingrained. [4]

Understanding the dangers of using alcohol to cope with stress and emotional pain, and gaining clarity on healthy consumption habits can help us avoid falling into the negative alcohol-depression pattern.

What does healthy drinking look like?

The Mayo Clinic defines moderate drinking as up to two drinks a day for men. [5] A single drink is roughly counted as:

  • One regular sized beer can
  • One restaurant sized glass of wine
  • One shot

Alcohol can be extremely seductive – before you know it, you can be on your 3rd or 4th drink if you don’t exercise self-control and keep your drinks to a minimum.

Creating a plan to limit drinking

The goal of an alcohol consumption plan isn’t to stop you from drinking, it’s about finding a healthy balance that works for you.

Your healthy consumption plan includes knowing your limits about:

  • How much alcohol you consume (not exceeding recommended guidelines)
  • How often you consume alcohol

For example, a guy may plan to have a glass of wine with dinner, no more than five nights a week. His plan guides his purchasing, use, and reduces the spontaneity of alcohol consumption.

Thinking about one’s plan can help you slow down and prevent impulsive drinking during difficult periods. For example, rather than reaching for a drink after a particularly tough day, instead reach out to a friend to talk or go for a walk or run.

Having a plan in place helps keep yourself accountable, and if you get off track, you can reflect on triggers and situations that trip you up and make adjustments accordingly.

Alcohol can be used responsibly, even when you’re fighting depression, but it’s critical to have clear limits in place. Be aware of the reasoning and motives behind why you are drinking, and make sure that you don’t use it as a means of dealing with the struggles of life.

Keeping it clean

Sometimes guys simply just feel better if they don’t drink, and would like to cut it out of their lives, but struggle with what abstinence means for them.

Typically, guys struggle with abstinence because they perceive it as a sign of failure – that they couldn’t control their alcohol use and thus have no other choice but to quit drinking. In this way, they see abstinence as reflecting a weakness.

But rather than viewing things from a position of weakness or deficit, cutting alcohol out of your life can be seen as an active choice for feeling and living better – “I choose to not drink because I feel better without it” rather than “I can’t drink because I’m not able to control myself”.

Better coping methods

Instead of drinking, healthier coping methods can be used when trying to manage symptoms of depression or feelings of stress. Examples include:

  • Going for a walk or getting out in nature. Research has shown that being physically active plays a big role in managing stress. [6]
  • Reaching out and talking with friends/family to let them know about whatever is stressing you or bringing your mood down.
  • Give your time purpose. This could include working on hobbies, reading, learning a new language, or volunteering – really, anything that lets you feel good about how you’re using your time, instead of wasting it.
  • Strategies like meditation, thought reframing, or journaling can be really helpful in managing stress and depression.
  • Even creating routines for yourself can help you gain a sense of control and order in your life, which can help in alleviating stress.

If you need further support

If you’re in need of additional support (and a lot of guys are when it comes to drinking), you can try talk therapy (psychotherapy) to get to the bottom of why you may be drinking too much, or try searching for a local support group, like Alcoholics Anonymous (North America, UK), that specializes in helping people get their drinking habits back under control.


References:

  1. Awaworyi Churchill, S., & Farrell, L. (2017). Alcohol and depression: Evidence from the 2014 health survey for England. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 180, 86-92.
  2. Bell, S., & Britton, A. (2014). An exploration of the dynamic longitudinal relationship between mental health and alcohol consumption: A prospective cohort study. BMC Medicine, 12(1), 91-91.
  3. Boyle, Salynn. (Jan, 11, 2012) Why Is Alcohol Addictive? Study Offers Clues. WebMD. Retrieved May 3rd, 2021.
  4. Boden, J. M., & Fergusson, D. M. (2011). Alcohol and depression. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 106(5), 906-914.
  5. Grant, V. V., Stewart, S. H., & Mohr, C. D. (2009). Coping-anxiety and coping-depression motives predict different daily mood-drinking relationships. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23(2), 226-237.
  6. Mayo Clinic. (2019, October 26). Alcohol in moderation: How many drinks is that? Retrieved May 3rd, 2021.
Written by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Reviewed and approved by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk - Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia.
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