Drinking and Depressing

by Ashley Peterson 12 months ago in humanity

When Alcohol and Depression Collide

Drinking and Depressing

I think that for the most part I have a pretty healthy relationship with alcohol. I grew up in a home where drinking meant a beer or two or a glass of wine here and there. My parents gave me small sips to try, and I couldn't stand the stuff.

Things got not so healthy once I moved away from home to go to university. I'm an introvert, and alcohol became an important social lubricant. I would binge drink one or two nights a week, but aside from going out with my friends, I drank very little. It was something that helped me function socially, but I didn't use it as a stress reliever and it didn't have any negative effects on my overall functioning.

Once I graduated, I became much more of a night-in kind of girl. When I'd have girls nights, we'd crack a bottle of wine, but it was because we enjoyed it rather than for any desired mental effects.

I was first diagnosed with depression at age 28. I don't remember any changes in my drinking pattern that were associated with that.

As I moved into my 30s, I became more asocial, and I started drinking alone at home more. I don't think this was a bad thing most of the time; it was much along the lines of the healthy drinking pattern I witnessed growing up.

Then my next episode of depression hit when I was 32. It was hard to treat, and spanned over a year, with three hospitalizations. The healthy things you "should" do weren't helping, but what did give some short-term relief was drinking. I wasn't drinking that much in one sitting, but I would drink on most days. The problem was those temporary reprieves from the internal pain meant that the pain was just building up bigger and bigger inside. Eventually, a crash was inevitable.

During that time I had a full-on meltdown, which unfortunately happened at a team-building event for work. The fact that I was drinking at the retreat wasn't that unusual in and of itself; other people were drinking, too. I had brought four bottles of cider, which I thought would be fine given that I'd space them out throughout the day and there would be plenty of eating going on as well. I was wrong. That depression tornado raging inside of me decided that was the moment it could be contained no longer. I was sobbing uncontrollably, and retreated to the washroom to hide. I have never in my life even contemplated driving under the influence, but on that day my illogical mind decided I was going to drive myself home. Clearly, other people weren't going to let me do that, and it turned into a big, ugly scene.

That meltdown marked the beginning of a major plunge in my mental health, which resulted in two hospitalizations and a suicide attempt a few months later.

I should have known better by that time, but when my depression relapsed again a few years ago despite being really well medicated, my drinking started to climb up again. I was having a couple of drinks most days of the week. After a couple of months of that, though, I did manage to put the kibosh on it before it got too out of hand.

Even now, I will occasionally try to hide from stress by getting my buzz on. At least now those are isolated, infrequent incidents, and I don't allow them to become patterns of behaviour.

I think I'm back to a healthy relationship with alcohol despite those occasional slip-ups. I know, though, that as long as the depression persists I'll have to be on guard for. That problematic relationship with alcohol is still there hovering in the background, and I need to pay attention to make sure I stay on a healthy path.

Ashley Peterson
Ashley Peterson
Read next: He Chose the Beer
Ashley Peterson

Mental health nurse, MH blogger at Mental Health @ Home, and living with mental illness. Author of 3 books: Managing the Depression Puzzle, Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis, and Psych Meds Made Simple. Proud stigma warrior.

See all posts by Ashley Peterson