How Long Does Depression Last After Quitting Alcohol?

Quitting drinking alcohol after a long-standing addiction can be very challenging. And unfortunately for ex-addicts, that’s not the end of their struggles. While quitting alcohol allows them to break free from the vicious circle of addiction, it may predispose them to other problems that they don’t normally anticipate.

Depression last after quitting alcohol

According to surveys and research, people who have dealt with and quit an addiction may suffer from unpleasant side effects of alcohol abuse later on. This includes mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, social issues like financial loss or loss of friends/relatives, and health issues such as liver disease.

The Impact of Alcohol Withdrawal on Mental Health

While addiction has its negative consequences, withdrawal is no easy feat either.

Acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms are ones that heavy drinkers suffer shortly after quitting drinking. These include heightened anxiety, irritability, and depression, which can manifest within hours to days after the last drink. 

One such life-threatening withdrawal symptom includes Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, which occurs as a result of chronic alcohol abuse. It is characterized by confusion, loss of coordination, drowsiness, dysregulation of body temperature, and heart problems. 

Another alcohol withdrawal-associated medical emergency includes Delirium Tremens, which manifests as audio-visual hallucinations, tremors, sweating, and confusion. It occurs 2-3 days after a regular drinker suddenly stops drinking.

depression after quitting alcohol

Post-acute withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) is a more chronic consequence of quitting alcohol. It may appear days to weeks after the last drink and results in persistent depressive symptoms, fatigue, memory problems, persistently low energy levels, and difficulty concentrating.

This article will mainly focus on how ex-addicts deal with depression even after they quit drinking, also known as alcohol-induced depressive disorder (AUD).

What Is Depression and Alcohol-Induced Depression?

Depression is a mental health condition that affects how you feel, think, and handle daily activities. It’s more than just feeling sad or blue; it’s a persistent sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, and emptiness that can interfere with your ability to function normally. Symptoms and their severity can vary for each individual. Some common signs and symptoms of depression listed in the DSM-5 include: 

  • A reduction in interest or pleasure
  • Changes in energy
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Disrupted or disturbed sleep patterns 
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Thoughts about death or suicide 

Alcohol-induced depression, also known as substance-induced depressive disorder, refers to depressive symptoms that occur as a result of alcohol consumption. While alcohol is often used to temporarily alleviate stress or sadness, excessive or prolonged drinking can disrupt brain chemistry and lead to depressive symptoms. This can include feelings of depression, sadness, hopelessness, guilt, and loss of interest in activities. 

Alcohol, substance abuse, and withdrawal can worsen existing depression or trigger it in individuals who were previously unaffected. It’s essential to recognize the connection between alcohol and mood changes and seek support from healthcare professionals or support groups if you’re experiencing symptoms.

Understanding the Interplay between Alcohol Abuse and Depressive Disorders

Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to alterations in brain chemistry, affecting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which regulate mood. Consumption of alcohol activates these transmitters, inducing a feeling of ‘high’. However, alcohol’s initial euphoric effects are followed by a “crash,” leading to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and social withdrawal.

This makes addicts dependent on alcohol to chase the feeling of high and wellness. This eventually leads to the chronic cycle of addiction where more drinking makes the neuroreceptors more dependent on alcohol for their activation.

So, when alcohol is missing from the system after quitting, this leads to a drop in neurotransmitters, causing feelings of dysthymia and depression. The longer the addiction was, the worse the symptoms may be.

Who Is At Risk For Post-Alcohol Depression?

Typically, any recovering alcoholic can be at risk for developing depression. However, some factors that may increase your chances of developing AUD include:

  • Any pre-existing health condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or disability disorders
  • Genetic factors
  • Being a heavy drinker
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Previous history of mental health conditions such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, or panic disorder
  • Family history of major depressive disorder or other mental health problems
  • Poor socioeconomic conditions
  • History of major traumatic life events such as the loss of a loved one 

Severity of Post-Alcohol Depression

The intensity of post-alcohol depression varies based on factors such as the duration and severity of alcohol abuse, overall health, and the presence of co-occurring disorders such as a disability or diabetes mellitus. Those with a history of heavy drinking or long-term alcohol abuse are at a higher risk for developing AUD.

The severity is also influenced by one’s social conditions, i.e., whether one has friends or family for support, is financially stable or has a job to keep them busy. Loneliness, poverty, and a sedentary lifestyle may exacerbate the symptoms.

Duration Of Post-Alcohol Depression

Feelings of sadness and low moods are common after quitting alcohol, as they are during hangovers. However, if these feelings persist and get progressively worse, they may be pointing toward a depressive disorder or AUD. 

AUD can last for up to four weeks after complete abstinence from alcohol. However, it may vary for each individual. Factors that can positively influence the duration of Post-Alcohol Depression include:

  • Adopting a balanced diet 
  • Engaging in regular physical activity as part of daily life routine
  • Practicing self-care techniques like mindfulness and relaxation exercises
  • Timely seeking professional help
  • Support from friends and family members

Positive changes like these in one’s lifestyle with medical guidance contribute to overall well-being and may accelerate the resolution of depressive symptoms. While dealing with AUD during early recovery can be challenging, the good news is it typically improves over time with appropriate treatment and support.

When To Seek Help?

As previously mentioned, symptoms of alcohol-induced depression should get better in four weeks. However, if you feel like your symptoms are getting progressively worse with time or if you have intense suicidal ideation, you should seek professional help right away. 

If medical help is delayed, inform friends and family about your condition so they can check on you to ensure your safety and well-being.

Importance of Professional Help and Medical Supervision

Seeking professional help, such as therapy, rehab, and medical support, is crucial for managing post-alcohol depression safely and effectively. Especially in cases where abstinence alone has proved to be insufficient for recovery.

Medical supervision, whether in rehab or on an outpatient basis during detoxification, helps manage severe withdrawal symptoms and ensures better physical health and psychological stability. It helps to manage any medical emergencies such as electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, or life-threatening heart problems. Patients with suicidal thoughts may also benefit from an in-patient program as it puts them under constant surveillance, thereby reducing the risk of self-harm. 

Similarly, therapy helps ex-addicts navigate their feelings more healthily and gives them an outlet for effective communication. It also helps to maintain good mental health in the long term.

Treatment Options For Alcohol-Induced Depression

Individuals recovering from depression as a recovering addict can consider the following treatment options: 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of therapy often used in the treatment of depression. It helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Pharmacological interventions, such as antidepressants or sleeping aids, may be prescribed to alleviate depressive symptoms such as insomnia and low moods. These are also useful in preventing relapse.
  • Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provide a supportive environment for individuals to share experiences, receive encouragement, and stay accountable in their recovery journey. It also gives them a place of belonging and negates the feeling of loneliness, which can often worsen depressive symptoms.
  • Rehab Programs or other such treatment programs for mental illness can be considered for individuals at serious risk of self-harm or suicide. Staying under surveillance can help these individuals cope better and ensure their safety. 

Usually, a healthcare provider will advise you on a health plan that consists of one or more treatment modalities as a multi-disciplinary approach that helps achieve and maintain recovery more effectively.

How To Tell If I’m Getting Better?

Keeping track of your recovery can help you stay motivated on the path to sobriety. Here are some things you can do to track your sobriety journey effectively:

  • Take note of your sobriety milestones, such as days or months of abstinence, which signify progress and resilience in the recovery journey. Do this by marking your calendar or collecting small tokens for each milestone. 
  • Note gradual improvements in mood, energy levels, and overall well-being, all of which are signs of healing and growth. You can do this by answering self-help questionnaires online or otherwise and comparing them to previous ones to check for improvement.
  • Attend regular support group meetings so your fellow attendees can comment on your progress. Sometimes, validation from others can make the most difference.

Navigating depression after quitting alcohol requires patience, support, and perseverance. By addressing the complex relationship between alcohol use disorder and depression, we can create awareness and help struggling individuals safely navigate their recovery path. 

By accessing appropriate treatment and seeking support promptly, individuals can overcome obstacles and achieve lasting sobriety.

Remember, recovery is a unique journey for each individual; it may not be linear for everyone. Some individuals may find their recovery process significantly more challenging than others. Still, as long as they stay committed to their sobriety and better life conditions, they will eventually find their way toward a better life and a better self.