Ditch the Happy Juice: Treatment for Depression

By: Samantha Mahabeer

“In terms of emotional comfort, it was our belief that no amount of physical contact could match the healing powers of a well-made cocktail.” David Sedaris, Naked

Why is it that throughout the ages, individuals have chosen to consume alcohol when they feel depressed? Alcohol has been taken by many as a source of “healing” for the blues, or what they may not have formally recognized as clinical depression. For some, alcohol has acquired the status of pharmaceutical treatments, revered as a source of healing, a magical potion that makes the dark feelings of depression vanish with just one shot, or in some cases, many. Could it be that the chemicals present in this “quasi-pharmaceutical poison” do indeed bring relief to depression? Does drowning yourself in a bottle of this “happy juice” instantly bring forth feelings of euphoria and peace by targeting the biological source of depression?

In reality, alcohol does none of this. Although many look to this mysterious mood-altering liquid like it’s a detective, capable of finding the solution to all of life’s mysterious problems, it is actually not an antidepressant, but rather a depressant. Individuals suffering from depression are typically treated with antidepressants, which target neurotransmitters that regulate mood like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Alcohol is a depressant, which basically means that it slows down, the central nervous system.

The common modes of attack for battling a diagnosis of clinical depression are medication and psychotherapy. Mental health specialists treat patients who have depression with the appropriate form of antidepressant. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are some of the newest and most popular antidepressants. Some of the most frequently prescribed SSRIs are Prozac, Paxil, Celexa and Zoloft. Similar to SSRIs are norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Effexor and Cymbalta. Although SSRIs and SNRIs have fewer side effects than older antidepressants, they sometimes can cause sexual problems, headaches, jitters, nausea and insomnia. These side effects are significantly less harmful than those of older antidepressants, which were known to cause heart problems, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth and weight gain. Abrupt interruption from taking these medications can lead to relapse into depression.

Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy” is also effective in treating depression. The two main forms of psychotherapy are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). IPT enables the individual to examine the relationships in their life that may be causing their depression and evaluate how to eliminate that factor. CBT requires that the individual change their negative thought patterns by looking at their environment and relationships positively.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) has also been a treatment option for severe and treatment-resistant depression. A pacemaker-like stimulator is placed in a brain region called area 25 that provides constant electrical jolts to activate local and downstream circuitries. Since it is invasive and effective for about 60% of patients, it has been a last resort. However, severely depressed patients would rather take this chance since this illness can be so debilitating.


NIMH  Depression. (n.d.). NIMH  Home. Retrieved September 22, 2013, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml.

Strenk, Th. (2010). Alcohol. Restaurant Business. Feb2010, Vol. 109 Issue 2, p.66-66.

Taibbi, R. (1994). How alcohol affects you. Current Health, 2, p. 16-19.

Underwood, Emily. “Short-Circuiting Depression. Science, Nov 2013, Vol. 342, p. 548-551.

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