We Need to Talk About Alcoholism and Depression


I would have been about five when I was given my first alcoholic drink. It was given to me to make me compliant with the men that abused me. I was in that abusive situation for fourteen years so probably an alcoholic by the time I was twelve. When I was of no use to the paedophile ring anymore my mother threw me out onto the streets of Dublin where I was rescued by The Salvation Army. I became sober for the next twenty-seven years until I had a breakdown following the announcement of the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse of Children that culminated in a diagnosis of Complex PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder.

In the weeks leading up to my breakdown, I kept thinking about driving into a lamppost, but I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to hurt anyone else, and I didn’t want to damage anyone’s car including my own. On Monday 3 April I went to work and I felt awful. I’d been binge eating and crying in the week up to it but this was something different. I had that empty hole ripped bare and saw no other way out than to kill myself. Luckily, I got an appointment at an acute psychiatric hospital.

The night before I drank a bottle of wine. I was drinking again. Just like that out of the blue. I became deceitful. Drank behind my husband’s back. Hit bottles of alcohol, drank secretly, bought alcohol on the quiet and became a functional alcoholic. No one suspected. I went on like that for two years before I was caught. The only reason I was caught was I got so drunk I tried to drown myself in our dam and the whole sordid story came pouring out. It was a long road to recovery. 

We live in a world where binge drinking is acceptable and even encouraged. Around 13% of us in Australia suffer from alcoholism and that’s just the people that are in recovery or know they have a problem. There will be hundreds of thousands, if not millions more in active addiction.

If drinking wasn’t so acceptable on a social level, perhaps we could acknowledge our feelings and spot the problem before it arises. There is still a huge taboo surrounding alcoholism that we, as a society, are still not facing.

Mental health is finally getting a platform. It’s time for alcoholism to be part of the conversation.

Alcoholism is an illness. After that first drink, my body couldn’t stop needing it.

People see addicts as people who need bigger highs or are stupid, but we do it because after a while of self-medicating, its no longer a choice, but a need. Our bodies cannot replicate the feeling we have given it and so the craving is out of our control. Alcoholism is still a big killer of men and women, whether it be the result of road accidents, domestic abuse, or suicide. Yet it is still largely disregarded in today’s society – and alcoholics face judgement.

We do not become addicts; it is innate within us and can be found to be hereditary. We are born as addicts and only when we engage with our addictive behaviour does it start to make our lives unmanageable. People may perceive alcoholics as unreliable and perhaps that is true for those in active addiction, but for those of us in recovery, we are probably the most honest people we can be, as we have to be, to survive.

For those with depression, alcoholism plays a massive role in pushing us over the edge.

Before I went into rehab, I was on my knees, suicidal thoughts were continuous, and I didn’t realise that my drinking to oblivion every weekend and sometimes bottles through the week was making my antidepressants not work. Antidepressants do not work if you drink on them.

Never in my use of antidepressants was this ever mentioned to me. Doctors don’t bring it up. It’s only ever on small print in the packs. In hindsight, I drank as a pick-me-up  and to block out memories so I thought I was making myself feel better, but the next day I just felt worse. My medication wasn’t working and the feelings I had tried to suppress came back tenfold.

In the past I drank on antibiotics even though I was told not to, because I needed the drink. This is the same impulse, but with a dangerous outcome. If your antibiotics cease to work, you’ll have an infection longer, but if alcohol is staving off the good your antidepressants are doing, the result can be deadly. Alcohol is a depressant so it just cancels the antidepressant out. That’s something we need to talk about more. I had no idea of this and have since spoken to many young people on medication for depression that didn’t realise this fact.

The biggest killer of men aged 19-49 is suicide. It’s possible that some of them were using alcohol to numb the pain, not realising that they were making their medication ineffective.

I wasn’t able to stop drinking even with the knowledge that it was preventing my antidepressants from working, but the average drinker with depression might manage it – the people who drink a few more pints to quiet the anxiety and drown their worries need to know why it’s the worst thing they can do.

This knowledge could save lives. We need to start talking more about it and working out what we can do to help. Alcohol is the only legal mind-altering substance in the Australia and most countries and yet it kills people every hour. It’s the silent killer that no one seems to be addressing.

When I had my initial consultation, I told my psychiatrist I had no hopes for the future. She said I was just lost. I don’t feel lost anymore. I think in recovery I was given the map and I’ve found the treasure chest. I’m not lost anymore, I’ve been found. I found the sober me, who is a good, honest person.I hope that one day, the taboo will be broken, and I’ll be able to be as transparent about this illness as I am when it comes to my depression. It’s far too important to stay silent on the matter.

Right now, men and women are killing themselves at an unfathomable rate. If my speaking out can help someone to understand alcoholism or someone who is self-medicating see that there is a way out and a life without looking at the bottom of a bottle, then it’s been worth every word.

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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