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Holiday Drinking and Seasonal Depression – What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

Last Updated on December 26, 2023 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team

Alcohol and depression are already a major problem in the USA, but when the holiday season rolls around, things tend to get even worse. For a person with depression, drinking alcohol may seem to help alleviate or numb the symptoms, but only for a short while, then the depression returns with a vengeance – and so the alcohol consumption continues. This cycle of addiction and depression will consume thousands of people across the globe this holiday season.

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How Seasonal Depression Begins …

Let’s look at an example …

A person wants to go visit family for the holidays, but circumstances present difficulties that cannot be resolved. There may be financial constraints, illness in the family or at home, an overburden of work or other obligations, even poor travel conditions can ruin the best of plans. Depending on the individual this can cause a wide array of feelings.

These feelings & emotions may include:

  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Jealousy
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness

Whether or not these feelings turn into a case of seasonal depression, clinical depression, or even trauma, is dependent on many factors that can affect the individual. Even inflammation on a physical level has been linked to depression.3

According to medical research, factors such as genetic vulnerability, poor nutrition leading to faulty mood regulation, stressful life events, medications, or medical issues, may all contribute to how the depression is developed in the individual.1

A person who is denied a weekend off for the holiday who has a history of trauma, could experience a trigger reminding them of the past losses, familial or other disturbing conflicts, and potentially result in depression symptoms in present time. An individual who is prone to substance abuse during difficult times, could experience a relapse during this time of frustration.

We can see how just a small event in our daily life could cause a ripple effect that leads to ongoing symptoms or problems that linger well after the triggering event has taken place.

Sometimes, people say they experience seasonal depression every year, or that the holiday season is always a miserable time. But why is that?

Could it be that their genetics plays a part?  Or, maybe a remembrance of past events triggers a state of depression?  Is a history of poor sleep a contributing factor? Maybe all the overeating and junk food is wreaking havoc in the person’s neurochemistry. Each individual is different, with different vulnerabilities and unique stressors. With all of the potential factors that contribute to depression around the holidays, one thing is for certain, adding alcohol into the equation can be the final straw and signal the need for a higher level of professional medical attention.

Alcohol Addiction and Depression

drinking seasonal depressionDrinking alcohol is socially acceptable during the holidays, perhaps too much so. A person who is feeling sad or lonely may try to drink away the holiday depression. Alcohol may be used as an aid to provide comfort during a time of suffering. Historically alcohol has commonly been relied upon during difficult circumstances, such as the death of a loved one, a break up, a trauma, as a way to lessen emotional pain. Too often, the use of alcohol may continue well beyond the end of the scenario that caused the depression symptoms. If this pattern repeats, a person may transition from having seasonal depression to alcoholism. The condition can become chronic and disabling, if proper care and treatment is not provided. Depression, although difficult to endure at times, can be a transitory problem relating to real life situations. Alcohol addiction, on the other hand, leads to lifelong struggles, major health problems, and can lead to long-term physical and mental health decline.6

An Effective Approach to Healing Depression and Alcoholism

The ATMC approach to support healthy neurochemistry, remove accumulated toxic burden, and investigate underlying issues, are effective ways to address symptoms of depression. Maintaining a healthy microbiome has profound, positive effects on mood, sleep, and even the ability of the body to absorb nutrition.2

In contrast, long-term psychiatric medication use typically has disruptive side effects, worsened sleep patterns, loss of appetite, and can leave a person feeling as if they have completely lost themselves.

For many, becoming symptom-free and off antidepressants is life changing!

How Alcohol Affects the Brain

One major concern shown in studies indicates alcohol consumption reduces the circulation of tryptophan to the brain. Tryptophan is a significant factor in mood and behavior regulation, as well as maintaining normal neuron/cellular function. 5

Medical research has found a wide range of injurious effects that alcohol consumption has on neurology and brain impairment. These include disruptions in signaling, impaired gene expression, and many, many others.

For a person who is already suffering seasonal depression, major depression, or other mental health symptoms, picking up a drink to numb the pain will likely do much more harm than good in the long run. For individuals who are reliant on antidepressants for their depression, drinking alcohol could have a more intense result. Reports of memory loss, blackouts, accidents, and even uncontrollable violent behavior, prove how combining alcohol and antidepressants could invite disaster.

Why Alcohol and Antidepressants Don’t Mix!

For anyone currently seeing a doctor and taking antidepressants, or other psychiatric medications, drug interactions may pose a risk. Alcohol and antidepressants, or alcohol combined with any psychiatric medication, will often lead to either worsened symptoms or newly emergent symptoms. But, how severe can these interactions really be?

To investigate the potential interactions between these two substances, a review of cases was conducted with the following shocking results:

“Pathological intoxication, characterized by unexpected and often gross disinhibition, was identified in 100 of 201 reports that provided enough detail to be evaluated. Memory impairment was prominent in just over half (53/100) of these. Outcomes included serious violence; homicide occurred in 8 cases, including two double and one triple homicide (12 deaths).”

Out of just 201 reports reviewed, over half of the subjects had “memory impairment,” and, tragically, 12 homicides or violent deaths were reported.4

Common drug & alcohol interactions: (not a complete list)
  • Increased anxiety
  • Worsened depression
  • Problems sleeping
  • Memory loss or impaired thinking
  • Drowsiness or becoming overly sedated
  • Increased aggression or violence
  • Potential dangerous reaction to those taking MAOIs

Are Warnings Needed for Antidepressants and Alcohol?

The above-mentioned review of cases collected and reported in the International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine calls for additional warnings to alert both prescribers and patients, to better their  understanding of the risks of alcohol intoxication during their antidepressant treatment.

At Alternative to Meds Center we agree. Additional research, effective warnings, and education are needed to help remind patients reliant on antidepressants that drinking is not a good idea. At our holistic psychiatric center in Sedona, Arizona, we have seen many case histories where interactions between alcohol and antidepressants have caused a person to suffer severe symptoms or even violent or disturbing behavior. 

Don’t Suffer Long-Term Consequences for One Wild Night!

A person may tend to dismiss potential consequences. After a holiday weekend of binge drinking, or a wild New Years Eve party, a person may expect the hangover will be rough, but that it will pass. The problem is, alcohol use will often make the depression symptoms worse. There are too many reports in family courts and police files of alcohol induced violent behavior, motor vehicle accidents, and other ruinous outcomes. Statistics show a direct correlation to holiday drinking and serious traumatic injuries.7 

One night of heavy drinking could be disastrous for someone who is already suffering from depression. If you or a loved one are battling depression and losing the battle of overconsumption of alcohol, and looking for a better way forward, please contact us anytime for support.

Have a Healthy and Happy Holiday Season!

recovery from alcohol and antidepressantsAre you or a loved one suffering from depression this holiday season? We invite you to consider alternatives that can provide a pathway to a better, healthier life.   Depression affects millions of Americans, and there are many ways to overcome it that don’t involve drinking or medications. At Alternative to Meds Center, we offer a holistic and therapeutic inpatient center where people come to recover and heal from the damage caused by long-term antidepressant use, as well as alcohol dependency. We have seen how providing a nutrient-rich diet, supplementation, a supportive environment, and access to world class holistic medical professionals, gives even the most challenging case the highest chance of long-term success. After a decade of offering licensed dual diagnosis services in Sedona Arizona, we are proud to say thousands have been helped and provided a second chance at life, after recovering from seasonal depression, major depressive disorder, alcoholism, and many other serious conditions.

Originally Published Dec 14, 2018 by Diane Ridaeus

  1. Remes O, Mendes JF, Templeton P. Biological, Psychological, and Social Determinants of Depression: A Review of Recent Literature. Brain Sci. 2021 Dec 10;11(12):1633. doi: 10.3390/brainsci11121633. PMID: 34942936; PMCID: PMC8699555. [cited 2023 Dec 20]
  2. Stower, H. Depression linked to the microbiomeNat Med 25, 358 (2019). [cited 2023 Dec 20]
  3. Dantzer R. Role of the Kynurenine Metabolism Pathway in Inflammation-Induced Depression: Preclinical Approaches. Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2017;31:117-138. doi: 10.1007/7854_2016_6. PMID: 27225497; PMCID: PMC6585430. [cited 2023 Dec 20]
  4. Menkes DB, Herxheimer A. Interaction between antidepressants and alcohol: signal amplification by multiple case reports. Int J Risk Saf Med. 2014;26(3):163-70. doi: 10.3233/JRS-140632. PMID: 25214162. [cited 2023 Dec 20]
  5. Egervari G, Siciliano CA, Whiteley EL, Ron D. Alcohol and the brain: from genes to circuits. Trends Neurosci. 2021 Dec;44(12):1004-1015. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2021.09.006. Epub 2021 Oct 23. PMID: 34702580; PMCID: PMC8616825. [cited 2023 Dec 20]
  6. Bellis MA, Hughes K, Jones L, Morleo M, Nicholls J, McCoy E, Webster J, Sumnall H. Holidays, celebrations, and commiserations: measuring drinking during feasting and fasting to improve national and individual estimates of alcohol consumption. BMC Med. 2015 May 22;13:113. doi: 10.1186/s12916-015-0337-0. PMID: 25998218; PMCID: PMC4494693. [cited 2023 Dec 20]
  7. McKee J, Widder SL, Paton-Gay JD, Kirkpatrick AW, Engels P. A Ten year review of alcohol use and major trauma in a Canadian province: still a major problem. J Trauma Manag Outcomes. 2016 Jan 21;10:2. doi: 10.1186/s13032-016-0033-x. PMID: 26807145; PMCID: PMC4722678.[cited 2023 Dec 20]
Holiday Drinking and Seasonal Depression – What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
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