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The difference between Alcoholism and Depression

I’d like to not be the one writing about this again. I would. I’d like to not be the spokesperson for negativity and complaints, but I just feel so angry all of the time. And when I’m not angry, I’m deeply saddened. Though perhaps I need this platform of release every six months or so, considering it was March the last time I really had to break out and write such a post, I still wish that wasn’t so.

I’ve put pen to pad – or at least fingers to keys -  a couple of times within the last few weeks about subjects that were griping me. First we had the sexism row about a CAMRA leaflet that, whilst currently being dealt with appropriately by those involved in the debates, sparked ridiculous comebacks that were designed to incense as many people as possible. It worked. I was angry.

Then we had idiots complaining about the wonderful Indy Man Beer Con, claiming it to be elitist, without actually going. I tried not to get as angry about that, assuming the author was just a parody of a fat, grey-bearded, poorly dressed, antediluvian prick that didn’t actually exist – like Sacha Baron Cohen playing a film version of one of Viz’s Real Ale Twats. I’ll not retort to such moronic writing with this belief still within me.

What I CAN’T ignore though, is the foolish ramblings of a bar worker in one of my more regular haunts the other day that was so uneducated I imagine him to one day grace a Youtube reel of “Dumbest Quiz show answers ever” (outstripping the person who thought the A5 was originally built by ‘Apes.’)

Rather than name names, shame good establishments or even repeat his bile, I’ll just relate it contextually back to several conversations ignoramus’ have started with me about alcohol and mental health, especially since my post about it in March. Some hadn’t read the post so they are forgiven, but SOME DID and didn’t understand a fucking word of it. So let’s try again. Why? Because some people still think it’s still appropriate to talk to a beer enthusiast with mental health issues, who personally knows a long suffering serious alcoholic, with questions such as these gems:

“Do you not think you’re depressed because you drink? Or do you drink because you’re depressed?”


If you don’t quite see what is wrong with asking such ridiculous questions, stick around because I am sure you are not foolish and are simply misguided about some attitudes towards Mental Health. Unless you are the sort that find welcoming, social events elitist or blatantly sexist leaflets non-sexist, in which case you are permitted to return to your corner with a copy of the Daily Mail and complain loudly about handicapped CBeebies presenters, female football commentators and smoking bans, whilst sharing pictures from Britain First’s Facebook page.

Of course, it isn’t just Mental Health that is ONCE AGAIN in need of illumination, but alcoholism too. My life has long been affected by the detrimental effect alcohol had on the man I called Steve as referred to in that March post, and further posts here and here. That doesn’t mean that I can’t share in the general “banter” that coincides with drink. I say that alcohol has become a by-product of our nation’s gruelling rat race, 9-5 culture that puts so much emphasis on work/money and so little on life. Weekend effigies screaming, “It’s Beer O’Clock,” “Shouldn’t tonight – but would be rude not to” or my forever favourite “Let’s drink until we can’t feel feelings anymore” are acceptable for us all, including those of us who have seen the lowest side of drink.

The caution that might be exercised in the presence of somebody who is suffering the poor life choices of a close relative or friend comes with the sensitive nature we react to questions about us being potentially alcoholics. That is when the so-called “banter” stops. Again, I can throw out all the friendly buzz-phrases that are tossed about everytime any friend gets drunk, “I think you’ve got a problem you mate,” “you don’t know when to stop” or “this guy is a fucking hero of drink.” This we can deal with, just don’t push it farther than this point here. This we cope with to be inclusive, to forget our other troubles and to be on parallel with the new person who drank four pints for the first time and was sick all over the stairs, or the steel enforced big person who was helping you into a taxi despite having had eight times more than yourself. It can be a drink culture at times and we don’t deny ourselves that. We try not to let the problem's of others control our own fun.

Nobody wants you to tread carefully as though the subject of alcohol cannot be light-hearted. We do enough self-loathing and guilt-tripping of our own. Every midweek beer is justified. Every suggested quick pint whilst out comes with a feeling of self hatred. We are the secondary victims of alcoholics who spend enough time qualifying any alcohol that passes our lips. We do not need people to pussy foot around the subject. Where that ends though, is when you ever, EVER, dare to ask whether we think we “might have problems.” You might want to speak to anybody who has had to suffer alongside an alcoholic what those “problems” you refer to are. Trust me, they are not the much needed beer on a Tuesday night or gentle workday hangover you believe.

To spin the bottle another way is the suggested relation to Mental Health. It’s difficult to try and elaborate the subtle difference between alcohol as a depressant – which it is, of course – and alcohol as an anti-depressant, that I’ve found just as useful as Citalopram in my time.

So what came first – the alcohol or the depression?

It can be the darkest, loneliest of worlds to live inside your own thoughts, that are often unreasonable and untrue. It is difficult, it is terrifying and mostly it is debilitating. That is depression. There will be some who have tried to use alcohol as an escape and found themselves slowly dependant on it for that purpose. They exist but they are comparatively few.

But alcoholism is also difficult, terrifying and even more debilitating. They are the biggest side effects. There may be some who have drunk so much that they’ve become depressed through the increasing doses of the drug into their body, and they have found mental health issues as a side effect. They too exist but are still in the minority.

I loved beer long before I ever knew what depression felt like. I love beer now, at times when I take my passions very seriously. There are times, like so many, that I do reach for a drink when I’m feeling particularly emotional. But never – NEVER – relate that to my love of great beer. There are times when the thought of the extra special, extra expensive barley wine waiting for me at home gives me my only smile of the day. My old colleagues used to say they never saw me smile more than when a box of beer I’d ordered online was delivered. Events, such as the recent Indy Man Beer Con, serve in giving me something I’m looking forward to so much that they postpone any other, stronger more depressing feelings I may have been having. In this sense, alcohol is the anti-depressant to me; it gives me joy and reason.

That joy and reason can be taken away as soon as somebody tries to relate those elated feelings to alcoholism.

You remain ignorant.

I know other people affected by Steve’s continued plight. One of those people hardly ever touches any form of alcohol because of the effect Steve’s problems had on her. I know she now sees drink as a source of hate. I know she judges me and can’t abide my own habits and how they haven’t changed. I know she secretly thinks that I could be next.

I’ll tell you something though, as I look at the beer in my glass as I sit in an empty house, writing again about the worst aspects of life, in a blog that I hoped thirty months ago would remain a continued celebration of beer, I know that Mental Health problems will take me long before the alcohol ever could. I know what I need help, support and understanding with.


Both alcoholism and depression make you paranoid; trying to link the two to a sufferer’s face will only fuel their own insecurities. Do I really need others to make me feel worse than I already do ?

If you are stupid enough to call beer celebrations elitist and ignorant enough to justify blatant sexism, then you are probably ill-informed on the subjects of depression and alcoholism. You are probably one of the sensationalist journalists who continue trying to link the subjects, leading to more everyday people to do so. You could be the next person in the street to unintentionally offend me by your offhand comments on serious illnesses. You could be the next to show serious lack of empathy or sympathy to all those effected by either. All it takes is trying to make that link.

I have realised since March that I’ll never get everybody to understand because so many don’t want to. But I will continue to write about it, until either claims my life. 


Ed said…
Phil didn't call Indy Man Beer Con elitist though.
Curmudgeon said…
I agree that depression is widely misunderstood, but for many sufferers it can be exacerbated by bouts of heavy alcohol consumption.

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