Depression and alcoholism are both serious medical conditions. They are not symptoms of a weak a character or lack of will power. They are, however, conditions that can destroy the lives of people suffering with either one of them. Ironically, it is not unusual to have depression lead to alcoholism.
Let me explain by telling you my own story.
There is a history of both alcoholism and depression in my family. My mother was subject to periods of depression that would last a month or longer. I also had several uncles and a great grandfather who were alcoholics.
I bring this up because with both depression and alcoholism a family history seems to create a predisposition. Some who work in the field believe the predisposition to a alcoholism skips a generation — but other experts do not necessarily agree.
When my wife and I were first married we had decided that after our first year of marriage we would accept a missionary assignment that would let us help others. The assignment was voluntary and required that we finance our own way.
Our assignment was in a very rural area of Appalachia where there was no work to be found.
As much as we enjoyed what we were doing, and made close friends, we simply ran out of money
Others who accepted similar missionary assignments had skills they could use to support themselves such as auto mechanics or heating and air conditioning. Unfortunately all of my experience was working with my office skills. As a result, we had to leave the assignment and return home.
Looking back I can see that there was no shame in going home; in fact I am now rather proud that we put forth the effort and tried. But at the time I felt like a failure and was devastated. Despite my wife’s attempts to console me, I developed a deep depression. I did not realize what I was feeling was depression, but I did discover that having a few drinks made me feel better. In reality the drinks masked the pain of the depression and that is what felt better.
What developed was almost ten years of alcoholic drinking. The drinking, in turn, increased my depression.
For years I only sought help for my alcoholism — in fact I went through three different treatment programs during the early 1980s. Treatment back then did not focus on depression.
It wasn’t until years later, around 1991 that a counselor I was seeing suggested I try Prozac, which was a new anti-depressant. Since my counselor was herself a recovering alcoholic, I listened to her advice.
It became apparent that at each weekly appointment I was feeling a little bit better. Finally, on that 7th week, I will never forget her telling me “welcome back.” She explained that I had been self-medicating my depression for over 13 years!
I have not had a drink since that time and I still watch myself closely for signs of depression. It turns out that my case was not unusual. Doctors have since learned that masking depression with alcohol is very common. If you are having problems, I hope my story helps you.