What is depression?

Most of us have days when we feel a bit low. But for some people, these feelings don’t go away – they get worse and may start to interfere with everyday life. This is what’s known as depression and it’s very common: according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, one in five of us will be affected by it at some point in our lives.

Common triggers for depression include relationship problems, unemployment, money worries, divorce and bereavement. But people who drink heavily, regularly, may develop the symptoms of depression without having any of these problems.


“The Costa Blanca Effect”

Published by registered Psychotherapist, Steve Ashley, this theory looks at the levels of depression amongst a number of ex-pats on the Costa Blanca, why they might be depressed, how it can manifest itself and how it can escalate, especially with the addition of alcohol.

Steve wrote, “What is going on when we are depressed, or lacking energy and direction, stuck in a rut if you like, and there is no obvious cause? Furthermore, what if on the face of it, we have a lot going for ourselves and yet, still we don’t feel able to get on with life? This is where The Costa Blanca Effect comes in.

“We have arrived for our new life in Spain. It is sunny, it is warm, the wine is good and a bargain compared with prices at home. Furthermore, we haven’t come here merely to escape things that weren’t right for us at home, we have actively chosen to come and live here in the sun, and we enjoy the excitement of new people and places and of “adopting” a different life-style. However depression and inertia still sets in for some of us. Why?

“I believe this results from the huge losses we make when we relocate, which can go unnoticed and be masked by the excitement of the new. A huge jolt to our sense of who we are; to our independence; and to our ability to get things done, occurs when we leave the U.K or Holland, or Denmark or Norway, or wherever we used to call home. As I said earlier, people are aware of stresses that can build up when someone loses a job, or retires, or a partner dies. However, people don’t allow for the impact of leaving our homes, our jobs, often our family, our friends, our community and perhaps most significantly, our language, all on one day and of our own volition. This is what actually happens when we step on the plane to begin our new life.

“Most of us plan carefully for the practical details of starting a new life, where we live, our prospects of work, where the kids will go to school and the like. Some wonderful people even start learning the language of their new country before they come. But who thinks through or makes space for the emotional and psychological impact of such a dramatic change to their lives?…”


He states that moving to another country, although exciting and refreshing, can infantilise people, as they don’t have a good grasp of the language, the culture, the way things are done. This infantilisation is frustrating. This coupled with the other unspoken ‘losses’ of leaving behind friends, jobs, familiarity and independence make some people more likely to indulge in alcohol as a ‘relaxant’ and a ‘coping mechanism’. Especially as it is so much cheaper, and socialising becomes more of a way of life than it was before.

However, starting to drink earlier in the day, partaking in more social drinking and having no ‘day job’ can exacerbate, not help, any existing feelings of depression, even if you didn’t consciously notice them.


How alcohol can affect your mood

Alcohol is a depressant: it alters the delicate balance of chemicals in your brain. As you sip your first drink, the alcohol starts to affect the part of the brain associated with inhibition. That’s why a drink can help you feel more confident and relaxed.

But as you drink more, something different can start to happen. Once your brain has high levels of alcohol affecting it, it’s possible the pleasant effects of your first drink will be replaced by negative emotions such as depression, anxiety or anger – even if you were in a good mood when you started drinking.


Drinking and depression: a vicious cycle

Regular drinking lowers your levels of serotonin – the brain chemical that helps to regulate your moods. This is one factor leading to symptoms of depression if you drink heavily and regularly.

In addition, alcohol and depression can feed off each other to create a vicious cycle. Regularly drinking heavily may affect your relationship with your partner, family and friends, or impact on your performance at work, making life feel difficult and depressing. And after a hard day, it can be easy to believe that having a drink will help.

Relieving depression linked to drinking

If your depression symptoms are being caused by your drinking, stopping drinking should bring about a significant improvement. In fact, people in this position often find that cutting out alcohol entirely for just 4 weeks will produce a clear difference in how they feel.

After a few alcohol-free weeks, many people find they feel brighter. You may find it less difficult to get up and face the day, and friends and family may find you easier to get along with.

To help prevent your symptoms returning, if you decide to resume drinking alcohol in the future, make sure you stick within the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines: Don’t drink more than 14 units a week (that goes for both men and women), have several alcohol-free nights each week and avoid binge drinking.

Getting help for persistent depression

If you’re still experiencing the symptoms of depression four weeks after cutting out alcohol, the Royal College of Psychiatrists advises that you talk to your GP. Remember to tell him or her how long you’ve been alcohol-free.

Your GP may recommend a talking therapy with a psychotherapist. He or she may also prescribe you antidepressant medication. Remember, you’ll probably need to continue to avoid alcohol or only drink very lightly if this is to be effective.

If you are concerned with feeling of depression, whether alcohol related or otherwise, do not suffer. Make an appointment with Medcare’s GP. You may then be referred to our Psychotherapist, Steve.

Call 966 860 258 or email doctors@medcarespain.com for your appointment.

You can read Steve’s full article on the Costa Blanca Effect here;