Resolving underlying psychological problems

There's a myth that people with drink problems are all drinking because of some huge underlying trauma. I'm sure that most people can be helped by trying to identify what function alcohol was fulfilling for them, but I don't believe that everyone has a huge emotional upset behind their addiction.

A lot of drinkers do, though, have significant problems with feelings of unhappiness, depression and anxiety. A smaller proportion have quite marked psychiatric problems, and some do have momentous emotional traumas in their past. As a general rule, it's difficult or impossible to diagnose these kind of problems, or to help someone with such difficulties, while they're still drinking. Alcohol, remember, is a depressant drug that causes a whole range of debilitating and miserable symptoms. It actually causes depression and anxiety, and inhibits natural recovery from trauma and loss.

Sometimes you can feel trapped between drinking and unhappiness, feeling unable to know which one to tackle first.

I would recommend that you should make your first goal to stop drinking, and then to see what kind of effect this has on how you feel. Not drinking is often enough to allow your mind to heal itself. If this doesn't happen for you, then once you're reasonably stable and sober, you can choose to address any psychological or psychiatric problems then.

If you're suffering from really alarming symptoms, (like feeling suicidal, hurting yourself or hearing voices, for example), you should seek advice from your GP or a qualified mental health professional.


Latest research into using anti-depressants for people with current alcohol problems suggests that newer anti-depressants don't work very well, whilst the older ones aren't safe to take with alcohol. Anti-depressants are far from being wonder drugs that will make you happy, but they might be worth trying once you're not drinking, as they won't have been able to work when you were drinking.

Further reading (external sites)

NHS Evidence expert commentary: Depression in people with alcohol use disorders