Health Matters

Holiday ‘Cheer’ and Depression Don’t Mix

Toasting the holidays with a festive cocktail is a tradition for many. A glass of wine or other alcoholic drink can lower inhibitions and help us relax, or temporarily relive the stress of a difficult event. URMC Therapist Kevin Coffey warns, if you’re feeling blue in the midst of the merrymaking, think twice before downing a few drinks. Alcohol may actually make you feel worse.
You may be surprised to learn that alcohol is a depressant. Many people think the opposite because drinking gives them a “pick-me-up.” The truth is that alcohol depresses your central nervous system and brain. That temporarily blunts the effects of stress hormones. But it also slows your coordination, reaction time, and intellectual ability. When the alcohol wears off, there's a rebound effect, bringing on more stress and depression than you felt before the first sip.
man with whiskey
Alcohol and Depression: A Devious Duo
Both men and women can have problems with depression and alcohol. With men, the alcohol use usually comes first. Alcohol impacts two brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) linked to depression—serotonin and norepinephrine. The more you drink and raise your blood alcohol content, the more this negative effect increases. In fact, symptoms of depression may occur with blood alcohol content levels as low as 0.03—about one to two drinks. 
Switch to Soft Drinks
If you have any symptoms of depression, skip the alcohol and toast with a soft drink. Depression is a serious health problem that’s on the rise in the U.S. In the past 15 years, the number of people seeking treatment for depression has doubled. Left untreated, it can lead to other health problems and even suicide. 
If these symptoms hit close to home, you may be depressed:
  • Sleeping more or having trouble sleeping
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Not enjoying things that used to bring you pleasure, including sex
  • Irritability, feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Reoccurring thoughts of death, including thoughts of suicide
Where to Turn for Help
If you have any of the symptoms of depression, get help. Your primary care physician is the best place to start, but not always the quickest. For help in finding a provider, click here.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, it is a medical emergency. Get help right away.
In the Rochester area, contact Lifeline at (585) 275-5151, or get to the nearest hospital emergency department. 
The good news is that depression is very treatable. The most effective approach combines medication and talk therapy. 
Kevin Coffey
Kevin A. Coffey, L.C.S.W., CGP, Ed.D.,  is social work clinical coordinator for outpatient services and a senior clinical instructor in the URMC Deptartment of Psychiatry, in addition caring for patients in his faculty practice.
Lori Barrette | 12/23/2013 | 0 comments


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Welcome to Health Matters, a blog aimed at keeping you and your family healthy. We offer advice from URMC experts on timely topics, as well as insight into breaking news and medical research. Visit us weekly for updates and invite your family and friends to check us out. If you have a topic you’d like to see us cover, please send a note to Lori Barrette.


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Though health advice offered here is provided by experts, there is no substitute for the personal care your own provider can offer. If you have medical questions or concerns, please contact your physician.

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