Food, Alcohol, and Drugs

By | January 19, 2015

Eating And Appetite

Clinical depression changes more than just your mood. It also can affect appetite. Serotonin, one of the chemical messengers involved in depression, helps regulate the sense of fullness after eating. When depression alters the level of serotonin, it can also disrupt appetite.

Some depressed people lose their appetites. No food tastes good. Eating seems like more trouble than it’s worth. These people may lose significant amounts of weight. This can be unhealthy or dangerous, particularly in older people.

Other depressed people gain weight. No matter how much they eat, they never feel full. Eating may be one of their few pleasures, so depressed people may eat much more than their bodies need, often in the form of junk food or other empty calories. Overeating can have a negative effect on chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

Antidepressants and Appetite

Antidepressants can also affect appetite. In some people, antidepressants suppress the increased appetite that is part of their depression. In a small percentage of people, antidepressants are associated with weight gain. In fact, weight gain is one reason some people stop taking antidepressants too soon. This side effect can be so disturbing that some people will quit using an antidepressant even when it is providing significant relief from depression. Fortunately, antidepressant medications that increase serotonin generally do not cause weight gain.

While some antidepressants are more likely to increase appetite and cause weight gain, they don’t have this effect on everyone. If you find this to be a problem, or if you gain weight while taking an antidepressant, you should discuss your concerns with your doctor. You’ll certainly want to try a different medication rather than giving up altogether.

Do Certain Foods Reduce Depression?

There is no hard scientific evidence pointing to specific foods that can help lift your mood when you are depressed. Even if you’re not hungry, eat regular meals. Avoid caf-feinated foods and drinks such as chocolate, coffee, and cola, because you’re likely to feel a letdown after the stimulating effect of the caffeine wears off.


Vitamins And Nutrients

Many depressed people wonder if vitamins might give them back their lost energy. In general, the answer is no. Depression is rarely due to a nutritional deficiency. However, the vitamins most often deficient in depressed people are folate (sometimes called folacin or folic acid) and, to a lesser degree, B12. Folate is found in leafy green vegetables. B12 is found in meat. If you do not eat these foods, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether you should be taking a supplement.

Try to follow these simple guidelines if you experience a change in appetite:

• If you’re not hungry, at least choose what your body needs most. This includes water (some experts recommend eight glasses a day) and wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

• If you’re eating too much, at least try to avoid what your body doesn’t need. This includes foods with empty calories such as chips and sweets.


Depressed people are typically anxious, restless, and short on sleep. To relieve those problems, people sometimes turn to alcohol. Many people rely on beer, wine, or hard liquor to relax at the end of the day or on the weekend. It seems to raise their spirits, at least while they are drinking it. But the benefits of drinking are brief, and the problems it creates can last a long time.

When you drink, your mood tends to improve only as long as your blood level of alcohol is rising. This is the early phase. But as the amount of alcohol in your blood goes down, so does your mood. In fact, during this phase your mood can go down further than it was before you took a drink, leaving you even more depressed. This is one reason why people who drink when they are depressed are more likely to commit suicide than those who do not drink.

Tolerance and Physical Dependence

If you drink alcohol regularly, you will develop tolerance to its effects. That means you must drink more and more in order to feel the same intoxication you felt when you first began to drink.

Regular drinking can also make you physically dependent on alcohol. Your body becomes so adjusted to drinking alcohol that it will go into withdrawal if you stop. Withdrawal from chronic drinking can induce seizures, hallucinations, and DTs (delirium tremens), which can be fatal.

Alcohol and Antidepressants Don’t Mix

Alcohol does not mix with antidepressants. If you drink alcohol while taking an antidepressant, you may find that it affects you much more strongly than before. Or you may find it has a negative or unpleasant effect.

In addition, alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of antidepressants. It’s best not to drink any alcohol while you are just beginning to take antidepressants. After a week or two, it may be all right to have an occasional glass of beer or wine with dinner, but you should avoid heavier use of alcohol.

If you aren’t sure if you should have an occasional drink, check with your doctor or pharmacist. Most containers of prescription antidepressants come with a label warning against drinking while taking the medication.

Risks Outweigh the Benefits

People who are depressed should avoid drinking alcohol for the following reasons:

• Trying to treat your depression symptoms with alcohol can cause you to postpone getting the kind of treatment that will really help you feel better.

• Drinking can increase the risk of suicide, both while you are drinking and afterward, when your mood worsens.

• Excessive use of alcohol also decreases your ability to understand your situation clearly. It does nothing to solve the problems in your life. It does not help you learn how to deal with disappointment and frustration.

• Although alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, you’re likely to wake up again in 2 to 4 hours, when the level of alcohol in your blood drops, and you may have difficulty getting back to sleep.

• Alcohol can worsen chronic medical illnesses, such as diabetes, by raising blood glucose levels.

Illegal Drugs

Depression can cause some people who don’t normally use illegal drugs to consider trying them. Relief may seem worth the risk. Unfortunately, using these drugs involves the same psychological risks as drinking alcohol.


Some people claim marijuana and hashish can decrease anxiety or insomnia. In fact, some people may experience short-term benefits. In other people, however, marijuana can cause feelings of paranoia. A person in a paranoid state becomes extremely suspicious of other people, and the fear associated with feelings of paranoia can be intense.

Marijuana can also produce panic attacks. During panic attacks, intense fears of dying or going crazy combine with physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, pounding heart, nausea, sweating, shaking, or numbness. These severe reactions usually wear off as the marijuana wears off, but not always.

People who use marijuana also sleep less deeply. The morning after using marijuana, people tend to feel less refreshed than they do normally. In addition, marijuana can often damage your memory and rob you of motivation.


Stimulants are powerful drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines that elevate the mood even of severely depressed people. However, these mood-lifting effects are shortlived. The crash after a binge on cocaine or crack cocaine can be devastating. Cocaine users try to avoid this awful letdown by continuing to use the drug for as long as possible. But eventually they have to come down. When they do, they are at increased risk for suicide. Stimulants should not be mixed with antidepressants because they deplete the same brain chemicals that antidepressants are working to restore.