Bob Vansant (psychotherapist): “Alcohol can help against depression”

INTERVIEWS

Millions of depressives reach for the bottle to face up to their depression or its effects. We might ask the question whether many people who drink are not, in fact, depressive. Up to a certain level alcohol must have a helping effect against feelings of depression. That at least is the opinion of Bob Vansant, psychotherapist and author of “How can I help? Dealing with other people’s depression”

What part does alcohol play in a depression?
Bob Vansant: “On the one hand, depressives often find alcohol to be an easy-access means to ease the pain of a depression but, on the other hands, it is precisely a means that can intensify the depression. So it’s an antidepressant and depressant at the same time! Alcohol has to do with psychology. Depression has to do with insecurity, loneliness, anxiety, doubt and independence. So the link between the two is a close one. In much the same way as frequent casual sex brings no lasting self-respect, frequent and habitual alcohol consumption will not bring pleasure, peace of mind or fulfilment.”

How can alcohol act as an antidepressant?
Bob Vansant: “Alcohol can help the depressive to relativize and take the mind off the inner stress and underlying problems for a while. However, the next day the real life issues come home to roost and you have to start drinking again in order to relative them. So you can end up in a vicious circle and then, of course, you’re on the wrong track. It is common knowledge that alcohol slows our reactions. I think that very many people drink precisely in order to slow down! So, alcohol acts to a certain extent as a tranquillizer in these hectic modern times.”

But other people become aggressive under the influence of alcohol.
Bob Vansant: “Depression often involves repressed feelings, which may include anger and aggression. Alcohol acts as a release mechanism for this choked-back anger. Some alcohol users are in fact aggressive, others are not. They start to cry and cannot express their pain. In and of itself, alcohol does not cause anger, aggression or sorrow, but it encourages these feelings to rise to the surface. In this sense, alcohol is a better antidepressant than a good many suppressant medicines. Many depressives can shake off “the blues” much more easily after a couple of beers, something they are unable to do under normal circumstances. Alcohol therefore seems to be a useful therapeutic instrument in the treatment of depressives, as long as it’s correctly dosed and supervised.”

Persons with depression find it harder to use alcohol intelligently.
Bob Vansant: “Depressive persons do, in fact, have the tendency to use alcohol in a rather more chaotic, uncontrolled fashion. But it’s not mere coincidence that so many millions of men and women and so many millions of others should spontaneously reach for this means. Artists, poets, writers and musicians have been using alcohol for centuries as a means of inspiration to give form to their emotions. Persons with a depression would perhaps be better advised not to drink alcohol, but to have it administered intravenously (directly into the bloodstream) by the doctor, in controlled doses. It is perhaps the ideal agent to bring out bottled-up sadness and aggression.”

What role can the depressive’s environment play?
Bob Vansant: “Very many depressives drink alone, in silence and loneliness. They would do better to drink in a pub. Pubs should be reassessed. Having a chat over a glass of beer is very beneficial for our emotional and social well-being. You always have to ask why a depressive person drinks so much. Instructing, forbidding or controlling has a counterproductive effect. Each drinking behaviour is different, because each individual, each background, each history is that too. Never try to convert the person concerned to give up alcohol, but try most of all to help by addressing the underlying problem. We must attack the cause, not the symptoms.”

Marleen Finoulst

Hoe kan ik helpen?
Omgaan met de depressie van anderen.
Bob Vansant
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