The Demon Drink

Before we begin we should start by saying that this is a pro-booze blog. The need to have a couple of bevvies is old-school: seriously old-school. Archaeologists have unearthed jugs from the late Stone Age (c.10,000 BC) that contain evidence of intentionally fermented drinks. The Ancient Chinese, Greeks, and Egyptians were all civilisations on the lash, and so, despite all the complex trappings of modernity, are we. We all need a drink at some point or other and, frankly, the last place you ever want to find yourself is sat at home alone whilst your friends are living it up in the pub.

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“Ah, Nefertiti, the 3000 BC vintage. You spoil me!”

However, here comes the cautionary note that we all already know. Booze, despite it’s international, cross-cultural ability to make us feel good can also make us feel pretty bad. Unfortunately there is a real, often ignored relationship between alcohol and depression: the depressed amongst us are most likely to be heavy drinkers, and the heavy drinkers amongst us are most likely to be depressed. Alcohol interferes with the work of neurotransmitters in the brain and leads to a reduction of serotonin production (serotonin is one of the chemicals that regulates our moods). There are also a number of collateral effects of drinking that can adversely impact how we are feeling, particularly if you suffer from depression:

  • Poor sleep: booze interferes with our sleep cycle, particularly with the REM phase. And by this we don’t mean the period in the early 90’s when you got obsessed with ‘Losing my Religion’. REM is the part of sleep that proceeds ‘deep sleep’ (the bit where the body repairs and restores itself). If you have a drink and then go to bed your body tends to skip the first bit (REM), go straight to deep sleep, and then quickly come back to the REM phase. This is when it’s easiest for you to wake up. I’m sure we’re all familiar with having a few, conking out, and waking up at 3am feeling rotten.
  • Irrational guilt: in addition to the usual worries that you might have kissed best mate’s girlfriend or called you boss a wanker, booze can lead to the release of stress hormones. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is part of your body’s defense system, and as you dehydrate and generally bamboozle yourself it is released by your body as part of cruel, but highly evolutionary process of self-protection.
  • Hangover functionality: the worst thing about a hangover (in addition to a cracking headache and lurking sense that you might chuck-up at any moment) is that fact we are often required to function whilst in the its foreboding grip. If you’re feeling depressed you are probably already fighting to keep everything ticking over in your personal and professional life. Throw a hangover into this mix and things can start to get really unmanageable.
  • Poor eating: no-one has ever ended a night out with a salad or cured a hangover with a lentil bake. Kebabs and a Full English are the only dishes that can be called upon in these desperate moments. All very tasty, but a bit self-sabotaging if you’re trying to keep on a roll with health eating. If you end the night/ start the day eating rubbish then you are more likely to excuse culinary sins for the rest of the day too.
  • Self-fulfilling prophesy: this is probably the most serious bit of collateral. If you’re depressed and drinking, particularly if you are drinking regularly and heavily, then you’re quite probably doing it to try and evade the underlying issues that are making you feel down. Very quickly, it can all start to get a bit self-fulfilling. Drinking becomes a hard to control cycle. Less coping mechanism, and more downward spiral.

How then, as someone suffering from depression, can you drink safely? Try Practical Depression’s top five boozing tips:

  1. Question yourself. Ask yourself why you’re drinking. Is it really because Jemima from the office turned 30 on Tuesday? We’re not even that sure you like her that much anyway. Might it actually be because you’ve been feeling a little blue recently? If it’s the former then fair play. Make sure you buy her drink. If it’s the latter then forget Jemima and try to be a little more honest with yourself. Try to fight the urge to block it out, congratulate yourself for being brave enough to recognise your motivations, and take yourself off somewhere else. Maybe call for a friend, or just go home, get a takeaway, and relax with a film.
  2. Stage-manage your intake. We all know that after the Rubicon that is the third drink no-one really knows what’s going on. It is post drink number three that you admit things like your secret crush on Paul Hollywood from The Great British Bake Off. Use this general booze blindness to your advantage and substitute every second or third drink for a glass of water. This will help you stay hydrated and a little more sober.
  3. Sober-up before bed As mentioned above, a big problem with booze is its propensity to interfere with your sleep (and specifically the REM phase of your slumber). Try and allow a couple of hours to have a snack and plenty of fluids before you go to bed. This will keep you hydrated and will prevent the instant alcohol crash-out: out like a light and awake again at 3am. Try and get yourself into a vaguely competent state before you hit the sack.
  4. Take a rest weekend. If you know you’re boozing schedule is going to be heavy then factor in time for a rest weekend. Two weekend on the trot is better than three! Decide which weekend you aren’t going out on and try to stick to it. Use the time to ensure that your life admin list hasn’t got too long, that you’ve taken a rest, and that you have enough clean undies to last you for the week.
  5. Plan the hangover. It is going to happen. Whatever your Bacardi befuddled mind is telling you a hangover is hurtling your way. As with the asteroid in Deep Impact, you can take the edge of it, but you can’t halt its approach. You do know that you are going to feel headachey, dehydrated, a bit sick, a bit blue, and generally knackered. Try buying a bottle of an isotonic drink (like Lucozade Sport), a big bottle of water, and a pack of decent painkillers. Leave these on your bedside table before you go out. This way you can wake up and start curing the hangover straight away. If you know that you’re likely to feel down then you should plan to be in company the next day. Make plans with a friend or agree to have a duvet day with your flatmates. Keep calm, you’ll be doing alright by the afternoon!

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