At the annual University of Michigan Depression Center “Depression on College Campuses” conference, Dr. Amelia Arria, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, spoke about the impact of alcohol on mental illness, academic performance, “stopping out” (taking a prolonged absence from school), and future employment. The results are what common sense would dictate: As consumption of alcohol increased, problems increased, especially for those prone to mental illness.
Some students who struggle with depression may turn to alcohol for relief. However, drinking is deceptive. At first, your mood seems to improve, and you think you’re starting to feel better. The truth is, alcohol can worsen depression symptoms and lead to permanent, devastating consequences.
Impact of Alcohol on Mental Health
Greater Risk for Depression
According to recent research, alcohol abuse or dependence may increase a person’s risk for developing depression in the first place. One explanation is that alcohol might trigger a genetic vulnerability for the disorder. Also, because alcohol is a depressant, this may lead to depressed mood among people who already abuse or depend on alcohol.
Alcohol can negatively affect sleep, which becomes a major problem when one is depressed. Depression already compromises sleep quality, and people typically end up either sleeping too much or too little. When you add alcohol to the mix, your ability to get a good night’s rest is ruined.
In the beginning, it might seem like alcohol helps one sleep. In reality, you wake up more during the night, and alcohol doesn’t let you get to the deep stages of sleep, which is when your body receives its much-needed rest, grows and repairs tissues, restores energy to the mind and body, and boosts brain processes.
Lack of quality sleep can increase depression symptoms, including depressed mood, difficulty concentrating and remembering things, and exhaustion.
Sleep deprivation also has a negative impact on one’s ability to perform well in school. Poor college performance will just feed into one’s depression and negative self-esteem.
Dangerous Drug Interactions
Now more than ever, college students are getting prescribed psychiatric medications by campus psychiatrists. Medications, such as antidepressants, may be prescribed to help treat depression. If you drink and take antidepressants at the same time, the result can be dangerous. For one, alcohol can reduce the beneficial effects of the antidepressant. Secondly, alcohol may affect you more than usual, impairing your behavior.
In addition to exacerbating depression symptoms, alcohol increases impulsivity, decreases inhibitions, and impairs judgment, so you’re essentially not thinking straight. This impairs one’s ability to make informed and rational decisions and leads to potentially dangerous situations and regrettable actions, which only deepen depression symptoms.
Abusing alcohol when one is depressed increases the risk for suicide attempts and completed suicides. Research shows that alcohol abuse is positively correlated with suicidal overdoses and car crashes.
When you aren’t thinking clearly because alcohol has clouded your mind, you’re more impulsive, and likely to do dangerous things. Alcohol-related accidents are the leading cause of death among college students.