Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Depression

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Depression: The Surprising Connection

Writen By: Faiza Saifur
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: September 13, 2023

So you want to uncover Alcohol withdrawal symptoms and depression? Imagine you wake up one morning feeling awful; your head is pounding, your hands are trembling, and you can’t shake that overwhelming sense of sadness. You’ve made the tough decision to quit drinking, but now you’re facing the harsh reality of alcohol withdrawal. It’s a scenario many people trying to kick the bottle know all too well. What they might not realize is that, along with withdrawal symptoms, depression often comes knocking.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms and depression are serious matters that demand our attention. Alcohol misuse affects millions of lives worldwide, taking a toll not just on the body but also on the mind. When people decide to quit drinking, they might face depression as a challenge. Understanding alcohol withdrawal symptoms and depression, along with why this matters, is the first step in helping those who need it.

Our goal is to shine a light on the link between alcohol withdrawal and depression. We’ll explore the science behind these two struggles and how they can impact people’s lives. Plus, we’ll provide insights into recognizing signs of depression during alcohol withdrawal and offer practical ways to cope.  

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal, also known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), is an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous process that occurs when an individual stops drinking alcohol abruptly or cannot access it for any reason. When you consume alcohol regularly, your body becomes accustomed to its presence. Suddenly quitting alcohol can lead to a range of uncomfortable and sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol addiction can lead to physical changes in your body, making it challenging to control your alcohol consumption. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to reduce or cease alcohol misuse.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal:

During the process of alcohol withdrawal, individuals may experience a range of common symptoms, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • High temperatures and/or chills
  • Vivid and distressing dreams
  • Tics and tremors (often referred to as ‘the shakes’)
  • Irregular or accelerated heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Decreased appetite
  • Feelings of depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Intense cravings for alcohol

Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Depression?

We will uncover facts about Alcohol withdrawal symptoms and depression, but before that, understand whether alcohol withdrawal can cause depression. You see, they often go hand in hand. When people decide to quit drinking, they can find themselves facing not only the physical challenges of withdrawal but also the emotional turmoil of depression.

To understand this connection between alcohol withdrawal symptoms and depression, let’s consider the impact of alcohol on brain chemistry. Over time, heavy drinking can alter the way your brain functions. Alcohol messes with neurotransmitters, – those are the messengers in your brain responsible for regulating your mood. So, when you suddenly remove alcohol from the equation, your brain can go into a kind of shock, leading to feelings of sadness and despair.

There’s GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which alcohol boosts, making us feel relaxed and less anxious when we drink. But if we drink too much for too long, it can mess up this balance and make us more anxious when we stop.

Glutamate is another one. Alcohol puts the brakes on it, which can make us feel less alert. When we quit drinking, glutamate suddenly revs back up, causing things like tremors, anxiety, and, in severe cases, even seizures.

Then there’s dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Alcohol gives it a big kick, which is why we get that initial happiness and relaxation. But with long-term drinking, our brain’s dopamine system can become less sensitive, making it tough to feel pleasure without alcohol.

Alcohol also messes with serotonin, the mood-regulator. Lower serotonin levels are often linked to depression, and this can get worse during withdrawal.

Lastly, there’s norepinephrine, involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response. Alcohol can mess with it, leading to things like a faster heart rate and higher blood pressure when we’re trying to quit.

Now, here’s an important factor, if you already have a mental health condition, like anxiety or depression, it can become even more challenging during alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol might have been a way to self-medicate or numb those feelings, and without it, those underlying issues can surface with a vengeance.

Sometimes, both alcohol use disorder and depression are present at the same time. This is what professionals call a dual diagnosis or comorbidity. It means you’re dealing with not just one, but two significant challenges. It’s like trying to untangle two knots at once, which can be incredibly tough.

Understanding these connections between alcohol withdrawal symptoms and depression is vital because it can help you or someone you know recognize that the emotional struggles during alcohol withdrawal are not uncommon and can be managed with the right support and treatment.  

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Depression 

Approximately 50% of individuals who undergo alcohol withdrawal will experience some form of withdrawal symptoms, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). 

Let’s dive deeper into what happens when you decide to quit drinking after a period of heavy alcohol use. Alcohol withdrawal is essentially your body’s reaction to the sudden absence of alcohol. Your body has become accustomed to having alcohol around, so when you take it away, it reacts, often leading to a range of symptoms.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the common alcohol withdrawal symptoms so you can understand them better:

  • Anxiety: This goes beyond everyday stress. It can be an overwhelming feeling of unease, restlessness, and sometimes even fear. Imagine constantly worrying about things, even the smallest details, and feeling like you can’t relax.
  • Tremors: These are like uncontrollable shaking or trembling, most often in your hands. In severe cases, your entire body might shake. This can make simple tasks like holding a glass or typing on a keyboard challenging.
  • Sweating: You might find yourself sweating profusely, even when it’s not hot or you’re not exerting yourself physically. This excessive sweating is your body’s way of trying to cool down and regulate itself, and it can be quite uncomfortable.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Feeling queasy and possibly throwing up is a common experience during alcohol withdrawal. This can lead to dehydration and worsen your overall discomfort.
  • Insomnia: This means having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. It can leave you feeling more on edge during the day and lead to fatigue. Imagine lying awake at night with your mind racing with thoughts and feeling exhausted the next day.
  • Hallucinations: In some cases, people may experience hallucinations, which means they see or hear things that aren’t there. These hallucinations can be distressing and often add to the confusion and fear that can accompany alcohol withdrawal.
  • Increased Heart Rate: Your heart might start racing, leading to palpitations or the sensation that your heart is pounding in your chest. This can add to the overall discomfort and anxiety you may be feeling.
  • High Blood Pressure: Blood pressure can spike during alcohol withdrawal, which is a concern for your overall health. It’s essential to monitor this and seek medical attention if it becomes severe.
  • Confusion: You may feel disoriented, have difficulty concentrating, or experience memory problems. It’s like your thoughts are all jumbled up, and you can’t focus on anything. This can be quite frustrating and frightening. 
  • It’s important to recognize that both alcohol withdrawal and depression can increase the risk of suicidal tendencies. Alcohol withdrawal can lead to intense emotional and physical distress, which may exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and despair. Depression, on the other hand, is a mental health condition characterized by persistent sadness and loss of interest in life, which can also increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions. So together with depression symptoms, alcohol withdrawal can cause higher suicide tendencies. 

These symptoms don’t appear all at once. Instead, they tend to emerge in stages. Generally, they start within a few hours to a day after your last drink and reach their peak severity in the first couple of days.

How intense these symptoms become and how long they persist depend on various factors. These factors include your overall health, the quantity and duration of your alcohol consumption, and any prior experiences with alcohol withdrawal. The good news is that there are effective ways to manage these symptoms, and they usually improve over time as your body adjusts to the absence of alcohol. It’s crucial to seek professional help and support during this challenging period.

Symptoms of depression

Depression is a prevalent mental health condition. According to the WHO, about 280 million people worldwide were affected by depression in 2020.

It’s estimated that around 7.8% of adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, as reported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

  • Persistent sadness or a low mood. 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities. 
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. 
  • Frequent crying spells. 
  • Increased irritability or frustration. 
  • Difficulty making decisions or concentrating. 
  • Changes in appetite lead to weight gain or loss. 
  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or excessive sleep. 
  • Fatigue and low energy levels. 
  • Restlessness or slowed movements. 
  • Physical aches, frequent headaches, and pains without a clear cause. 
  • Social withdrawal or isolation. 
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work or home 
  • Loss of interest in personal hygiene and grooming. 
  • Reduced sex drive. 
  • Substance abuse as a way to cope. 
  • Persistent negative thoughts. 
  • Memory loss
  • Pessimistic outlook on the future. 
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors in severe cases. 

Experiencing some of these symptoms occasionally is a part of life, but If you encounter five or more of these signs for more than 2 weeks, you may be living with clinical depression. 

The Duration of Alcohol in the Body During Withdrawal

When you start the process of alcohol withdrawal, it’s essential to understand how long alcohol remains in your various bodily fluids and tissues:

  • Blood – Alcohol can typically be detected in the bloodstream for up to 6 hours after your last drink.
  • Urine – Alcohol metabolites may be present in urine for approximately 12-24 hours following alcohol consumption.
  • Breath – Alcohol can be detected in breath samples for about 12-24 hours after drinking.
  • Saliva – Alcohol may be present in saliva for roughly 12-24 hours after your last drink.
  • Hair – Alcohol metabolites can potentially be detected in hair for up to 90 days, providing a longer-term record of alcohol consumption.

Keep in mind that these timeframes can vary depending on several factors, including the amount of alcohol consumed, your metabolism, and individual differences.  

Coping Strategies for Alcohol Withdrawal-Related Depression.

Now, let’s talk about how to deal with depression during alcohol withdrawal. It’s not an easy journey, but there are effective strategies that can help you or someone you care about get through it.

Detoxification (Detox)

For individuals facing severe or prolonged alcohol withdrawal, medically assisted alcohol detox can be the most effective solution to breaking free from addiction. This detox process occurs in a supervised inpatient setting, where medical professionals provide 24/7 care to help manage challenging withdrawal symptoms. Medications like chlordiazepoxide or diazepam may be used to alleviate symptoms and ensure your well-being.

After completing detox, patients typically continue their recovery in a residential inpatient environment. Here, the focus shifts to achieving long-term sobriety and overcoming addiction through therapy, support groups, and comprehensive treatment programs. This supportive environment enables individuals to work toward a healthier, alcohol-free future.

Medications and Medical Treatment

Sometimes, medications prescribed by a healthcare professional can be incredibly beneficial. They can help manage severe symptoms and make the process less daunting. If you’re struggling with alcohol withdrawal-related depression, it’s important to consult a doctor who can guide you through the right medication options and dosages.

Psychotherapy and Counseling

Therapy can be a game-changer. Talking to a therapist or counselor can help you understand the roots of your depression and develop coping strategies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for instance, is often used to address both alcohol addiction and depression simultaneously.

Lifestyle Changes and Self-Care Tips

  • Diet and Nutrition: What you eat matters. A balanced diet rich in nutrients can boost your mood and energy levels. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar, which can exacerbate anxiety.
  • Exercise: Physical activity releases endorphins, those feel-good chemicals. Even a short walk can make a big difference in how you feel.
  • Sleep Hygiene: Good sleep is a lifeline. Create a bedtime routine, keep your bedroom comfortable, and avoid screens before sleep to improve your sleep quality.
  • Stress Management: Stress can worsen depression. Learn stress-reduction techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help you stay calm during this challenging time.

Relapse prevention. 

Relapse prevention is like a safety plan for those in recovery. It involves recognizing what might make you slip back into unhealthy habits, like alcohol or substance use, and finding ways to avoid those triggers or cope with them in healthier ways. By staying connected with support groups, talking to a therapist, or having a plan in place for when things get tough. It’s a way to help you stay on track in your journey to recovery.

Support Systems: Family, Friends, and Support Groups

Don’t underestimate the power of your support network. Sharing your struggles with family and friends can be incredibly comforting. They can offer encouragement and lend a sympathetic ear when you need it most. Additionally, consider joining support groups where you can connect with others who are going through similar experiences. Knowing you’re not alone can be a source of strength.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and recovery takes time. Be patient with yourself, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help. You’ve taken a brave step by deciding to face alcohol withdrawal and depression head-on, and with the right strategies and support, you can overcome these challenges and build a healthier, happier life.

Wrapping up!

Staying sober for the long haul is a big deal. After overcoming alcohol withdrawal symptoms and depression, the journey continues. 

Long-term sobriety isn’t just about avoiding alcohol; it’s about securing your mental and emotional well-being for the future and building a brighter life free from addiction and depression.

Here’s the twist: relapse triggers. These are things that might tempt you back to alcohol, like stress, loneliness, or old habits. But don’t fret, because there are ways to deal with these triggers. By recognizing them and learning how to handle them, you can protect your sobriety more effectively.

Think of these as your tools to prevent relapse. They’re like your armor against the old habits. These techniques can include setting goals, seeking ongoing support, and taking care of yourself. Remember, if you do slip up, it’s not the end of the road. It’s just a detour, and with the right mindset and strategies, you can get back on track.

Preventing relapse and sustaining your recovery is a commitment to a healthier, happier life. It’s a promise to yourself, and you definitely deserve it.