Alcohol produces the neural and molecular changes of a rapid antidepressant, new research concludes.
The drug lifts depression for up to 24 hours due to its effect on the brain’s chemistry.
Naturally, the study’s authors were quick to warn against self-medication.
Dr Kimberly Raab-Graham, the study’s first author, said:
“Because of the high comorbidity between major depressive disorder and alcoholism there is the widely recognized self-medication hypothesis, suggesting that depressed individuals may turn to drinking as a means to treat their depression.
We now have biochemical and behavioral data to support that hypothesis.”
The research was carried out in animals, but the effects seen were similar to other rapid antidepressants.
The behavioural effects were also similar to those seen in people.
Ketamine is another drug that has been recently shown to produce a rapid antidepressant effect.
Dr Raab-Graham said:
“There’s definitely a danger in self-medicating with alcohol.
There’s a very fine line between it being helpful and harmful, and at some point during repeated use self-medication turns into addiction.”
Doctors often advice against drinking alcohol while taking antidepressant medication.
It can cause a worsening of depression symptoms in the long-run.
Naturally, as this study demonstrates, people feel the benefit of drinking to their mood in the short-term.
Indeed, antidepressants can often increase the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
Repeatedly drinking too much, though, can clearly lead to a worse emotional state — especially the morning after.
Dr Raab-Graham said:
“Additional research is needed in this area, but our findings do provide a biological basis for the natural human instinct to self-medicate.
They also define a molecular mechanism that may be a critical contributor to the comorbidity that occurs with alcohol use disorder and major depressive disorder.”
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The study was published in the journal Nature Communications (Wolfe et al., 2016).