Table of Contents
Depression After Quitting Drinking
Newfound sobriety is often met with feelings of depression. If you are thinking, “I quit drinking and now I am depressed,” this article can shed some light.
You were so looking forward to sobriety; a new life in recovery awaited you. Now that you’ve finished treatment for alcoholism, you wonder why you are feeling so sad. What gives?
The good news is that you are not alone. In fact, even the cofounder of A.A., Bill W., struggled with depression in recovery. As you will learn here, there are many reasons why someone in early recovery might grapple with a bout of depression.
What Causes Depression in Recovery?
Even an optimist might find themselves feeling depressed once they have attained sobriety. There are several reasons why depression hits people in recovery. These might include:
- Not used to feeling real emotions. After numbing unpleasant feelings with alcohol as they bubbled up, it isn’t easy to stare these emotions in the face. Self-medicating with alcohol only acts as a Band-Aid, and once sober, that Band-Aid gets ripped off. It just takes time to learn how to better cope with and manage negative emotions.
- Relationship challenges. In recovery you are doing a lot of rebuilding, and that includes your primary relationships. For instance, there may be some left over anger and resentment that needs healing. Mostly, you are a different person in recovery and it takes time to fit that version into existing relationships.
- Facing the fallout. Alcoholism exacts a heavy toll on all areas of someone’s life. While drinking, it is easy to ignore things, like paying bills on time and showing up to important appointments. In sobriety, the fallout from the alcoholism comes into sharp focus, which can be pretty depressing.
- Boredom and loneliness. When just starting out in recovery you may struggle with feelings of loneliness and boredom. Drinking took up such a huge chunk of real estate in your life, so without it life looks quite different. You now have fewer friends, as you had to walk away from toxic people. Also, without drinking to numb reality, you may find yourself bored and restless.
- Brain chemistry rebooted. Alcohol dependence causes the brain pathways to become altered. The brain became dependent on the dopamine released by the daily drinking. Once sober, brain chemistry will adjust, but it takes time. In the meantime, symptoms of depression can be very common.
Know the Signs and Symptoms of Depression
The symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe, with most falling somewhere in between. Depression can impair daily functioning and even disrupt all aspects of life. Become familiar with these signs and symptoms of depression:
- Sadness, despair, hopelessness
- Loss of desire to participate in usual activities.
- Weight loss or gain.
- Sleep disorders.
- Slowed motor and cognitive function.
- Inappropriate feelings of shame or guilt.
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions.
- Suicidal thoughts.
When a cluster of five or more symptoms is present for more than two weeks that would indicate depression.
Was the Depression There All Along?
Another way to explain why you quit drinking and now are depressed is that the depression was there first. In fact, the mental health disorder may have led to increased alcohol intake as a means of self-medicating. This means that the drinking problem arose because of the depression.
When two mental health disorders exist at the same time it is called a dual diagnosis. When in treatment for alcohol use disorder, it is crucial that the depression also be addressed and treated. If not, once sober, the depression will continue to plague you, which can threaten sobriety.
Depression, Relapse, and the Risk of Suicide
People who have co-occurring depression and alcoholism have an increased risk of suicide. In fact, SAMHSA reports that nearly one third of all suicides involved people who had blood alcohol above legal limits.
Also, half of those who completed suicide had a history of depression when they died. Alcoholism puts an individual at a ten-fold higher risk for suicide as compared to the general public. A study states that among alcoholics the lifetime risk of suicide is 10%-15%. In 85% of 100 cases of completed suicide were in people with co-occurring alcoholism and depression.
With that in mind, alcoholics that relapse could be at a special risk for suicide. This is due to a sense of failure and despair that follows a relapse, plus the compound losses that resulted.
How to Manage Depression in Recovery
If you are in recovery and notice the signs of depression creeping in, do not ignore these. Continue to receive ongoing therapy to manage the depression in recovery. Depression treatment involves:
- Medication. In most cases, antidepressants will be useful for helping to manage depression symptoms.
- Psychotherapy. Therapy is a core treatment element for people in recovery for co-occurring disorders like depression.
- Group support. Peer support is an essential aspect of dual diagnosis treatment. Support groups, group therapy, family therapy, or couples therapy are all helpful for managing depression.
- Life skills. An alcohol use disorder can cause immense damage in one’s life. Life skills classes can help restore confidence by teaching resume writing and job seeking skills.
- Holistic therapies. If you struggle with depression in recovery, you might benefit from holistic methods. These can reduce stress and anxiety, and help you be in a calmer more relaxed state of mind. These might include art therapy, yoga, mindfulness, deep-breathing techniques, and meditation.
If you find yourself saying, “I quit drinking and now I am depressed,” you are surely not alone. This is a common experience in early recovery. With patience and time, you will begin to feel better.
Journey Hillside Offers Comprehensive Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder
Journey Hillside provides premier addiction treatment services for those who are ready to give up alcohol. For those who quit drinking and now are depressed, ongoing outpatient therapy and medication can help. For more info, please call us today at (877) 885-3342.