Can alcohol help with depersonalization and derealization or does it do more harm? How about DP/DR during hangovers? Let’s find out.
Alcohol can either be categorized as one of the best inventions of humans or, contrarily, it can be seen as a curse that we brought upon ourselves.
Many in the world enjoy a glass of wine or a few rounds of liquor now and then. The alcohol industry is one of the biggest in the world, reaching over a trillion dollars. That’s a lot of zeroes.
People consume alcohol primarily for the relaxing effect it has on their nervous systems, and also its taste (which is usually acquired). Alcohol is what is known as a depressant, and it dampens the responses of your nervous system and decreases inhibition.
This is great in, let’s say, a social setting like a party or a networking event. It’s well suited for first dates, where the more relaxed one is, the better their chances of not coming across as awkward.
However, this chemical compound is not without its dark side. Millions of people suffer from alcohol addiction. It not only has the power to destroy someone’s life, but it also can wreak havoc on people who don’t even consume it. An alcoholic father or mother can cause irreparable damage to their children. People who drink and drive can end up killing someone in a road accident.
In addition to the above, alcohol can also have some short-term and long-term psychological effects on a person. In this article, I want to examine the role of alcohol when it comes to its effects on depersonalization and derealization.
Alcohol and My Depersonalization
I enjoyed drinking in my twenties. I don’t think I ever had a problem with alcohol, but I have never let an opportunity to have a glass of beer or a shot of Jameson (my choice in whiskey) slide.
All of that changed when I began to develop depersonalization and derealization disorder.
There was a period in my life when I suddenly started feeling out of it. I had been experiencing depersonalization and derealization without even knowing what those terms meant. My anxiety levels became more and more intense over a period of a few weeks. Since I had never experienced such high levels of anxiety before, I had no idea what I was experiencing.
One night, I was at an office party and we had been going from bar to bar, and we just kept buying rounds for each other. Since I had been feeling anxious and depersonalized, I indulged in drinking beers and taking shots in the hope that it would make me feel better.
But something was off. Usually, alcohol made me feel better (even though it was temporary), but at that time, I just couldn’t feel the positive effects of drinking. I remember just feeling normal and alert even as the beers kept flowing. I went home and fell asleep, wondering why I was still feeling anxious and generally out of it, and not feeling buzzed or drunk.
I woke up the next morning hungover. It was a little crazy to me. I felt like I had consumed a lot of drinks, and never really got that drunk, but here I was waking up with a nasty hangover.
As I got ready to leave for work, I decided to grab a large coffee without even realizing that caffeine is a diuretic. That’s a fancy word for something that increases the excretion of water from the body. When you are hungover, you need more water and not less of it, so coffee was really a bad choice.
The caffeine also made my anxiety and depersonalization worse. I got onto the train I usually took to work. When the train stopped inside a subway tunnel (something that’s happened many times in the past), I suddenly got extremely claustrophobic, which led to a devastating, full-blown panic attack. That was a life-altering day. My anxiety and depersonalization/derealization became intense after that and it took me a while to put my life back together.
As I’ve mentioned before in my depersonalization story, my first few months with DP/DR were the hardest. I was confused, scared, and felt like I was teetering on the edge of my sanity.
I tried to medicate myself with alcohol, trying to make myself feel better. I thought maybe with enough beer, I could make these weird new feelings go away, even if it was just for an hour or so. It never worked.
You see, depersonalization changes your relationship to alcohol. You never really get buzzed as you did before. It may be possible to get drunk through a lot of drinking, but it becomes rather impossible to feel that gentle relaxation after one or two beers during depersonalization.
To this day, even after feeling cured of many DP/DR symptoms, my relationship with alcohol has changed. Granted, I am not the same person I was, and I do not feel the need to indulge myself with so much drinking, but even now, I just feel alert after having a few drinks. I am unable to get buzzed.
It’s not just me. A few of my clients who I help get through DP/DR also feel the same way.
A Possible Explanation
I think I may have a possible explanation for why alcohol doesn’t have its relaxing effect on DP sufferers.
When someone becomes depersonalized, they enter a state of hypervigilance. In this state, their amygdala, which is responsible for threat detection, becomes very sensitive.
In a depersonalized person, the amygdala is constantly scanning the environment and their internal mental space for any sign of threat. So even a slight change in your heartbeat is falsely misinterpreted as something wrong with your heart. You become easily irritable and also more anxious about everything. You are always on high alert with DP/DR.
In such a hypervigilant state, alcohol isn’t able to dampen your nerves as easily as it’s able to with someone who is not depersonalized. Even after having a round or two, you still feel as alert as before. You are unable to relax and wind down.
It takes a lot of drinking to get out of this state of high alertness. But drinking that much is not only unhealthy for you, it also makes you very hungover the next morning. And hangovers during depersonalization are something to watch out for.
DP/DR and Hangover
Alcoholic hangovers take your depersonalization and anxiety to the next level. I’ve experienced a number of hungover Sundays in my younger days, but those were completely manageable. I’d eat a big meal and drink some fresh juice, and gradually, they’d start to be less of a pain.
However, hangovers post-DP were something else. I’d feel extremely anxious, my derealization went through the roof, and I’d feel really disconnected from myself.
This happened on multiple occasions when I thought I was close to another panic attack. But by then, I had come to practice acceptance and was able to calm myself down.
Over time, these experiences started changing my relationship with alcohol. I thought to myself, “Well, I am not getting any of the benefits of alcohol, but I am receiving all the downsides from drinking.” It made me think twice before saying yes to a company happy hour.
Your Relationship to Alcohol Post-DP
You need to realize that alcohol cannot help you with depersonalization. That doesn’t mean you have to become a teetotaler. What I would suggest is that you recalibrate your relationship with drinking during and after depersonalization.
If you are drinking to numb out DP feelings, then know that this won’t work. It may give you short-term relief, but your DP always comes back, and it may come back with more intensity. You’ll also have to deal with hangovers the next day, which can be brutal during depersonalization, as explained above. A better approach would be to accept, allow, and see through these scary and unpleasant DP thoughts and feelings.
It’s fine to have a glass of beer or wine here and there. I do that from time to time. I am ok grabbing a beer with friends on a Saturday night or once every few weeks. I still love the taste of beer, but I am not drinking to make myself feel better. For that, I exercise, work on side projects, and try to achieve goals that I have set for myself.
Depersonalization can be a strange disorder and we don’t yet know a lot about it. There hasn’t been a lot of research done about the effects of alcohol on depersonalization, but there’s enough anecdotal evidence available that says alcohol and DP/DR don’t mix well.
Tell me about your experience with alcohol in the comments. Do you feel better after a round or two? Or are you not able to feel its effects like you did before? Have you used alcohol to feel better during depersonalization? I’m curious to know.
I agree that alcohol doesn’t help in the long run. I developed an extremely heavy drinking habit in my 20’s, and could easily drink a full liter or case of beer and in one sitting. I always wondered if my dp/dr was a reason why I was able to drink so much. Even after cutting back on drinking, I can still drink a lot. It can be really nice to get hammered and forget about dp/dr, feel some disinhibition, and feel more emotion. I do realize that in the long run it is counter-productive though and have curbed my use. I’m still struggling just as bad, if not worse, however even though I’m sober. It’s been over 15 years and I haven’t had a day go by that was DP free. Can you tell me about your new workshop coming out?
Swamy G says
Good that you are cutting back on your alcohol intake. From my experiennce, it does not alleviate DP symptoms, but instead only aggravates it. Stop caring it’s been 15 years. I know it’s difficult, but live as if you forgot about your DP experience. Is there anything in your life that you can channel and focus your energy on?
I’m working on publishing a new online course titled DP No More (it’s NOT a workshop). It’s a complete guide to recovering from DP and DR. Be on the lookout for the launch email in the coming days.
Hello I am a sufferer for about 7 years off and on… It was initially triggered by a combo of marijuana and lack of sleep and missed meal. Took me awhile to see that… Although I already suffered anxiety for a long time and smoked weed, I never had a big problem til one night, I panicked hardcore, the worst DP to date. After that I really only felt a little out-of-sync… It eventually faded, then another 2 panic attacks over the next couple yrs made me a long-term sufferer, after a year or 2 I got to a good point, lived alone, very little stress, and started looking for a girl. I noticed during this time, alcohol in moderate or higher doses triggered my DR, so I only drank every so often… Usually for high levels of stress, but never drank much…
Finally found a girl I brought from Peru here. The immigration process plus extra work hours and just relationship stress hit, as well as a baby on the way, and I started having mid-level panic attacks… So here I am again, after a 2-3 year gap of being pretty well, back in the clutches of anxiety/dr/depression.
Basically I’m finding it hard to cope with relationship life, and can’t escape this stress… like I feel I need to separate from my wife for awhile, maybe months, while I heal again… IDK what to do.
I’m the beginning I was nervous to drink alcohol. My first year of college. It made me feel like I was going to lose control. I had had DP/DR for almost two years already.
However, I began to feel like drinking helped me loosen up in a good way. My social fears loosened and it actually really helped me bond with my dorm mates. My depression lessened. I dare say I was experiencing some happiness.
Hangovers however, kicked my ass, made me feel unstable, more unreal, and panicky. Not good. Still the same now.
I could always feel the effects of alcohol. Never had an issue with that.
I still drink to this day. 1 drink and maybe two. Helps me relax usually. Occasionally if I am in a funky state of mind, I opt not to drink, because occasionally I will get too emotional.
Daniel morley says
Hi Swamy, I have had DPDR for the last 2 years. I loved alcohol growing up, I drank quite a lot. But now it doesn’t give me the buzz it used. It makes me feel disconnected from myself and the world.
I still love the taste of beer too, but I hate the affects alcohol brings to my consciousness. So sometimes I have the occasional beer with friends, but its never been the same.
I actually thought until reading this article that there was something wrong with my brain, because I couldn’t understand why alcohol didn’t make me feel good anymore. So thank you for this insight and the content you provide. really helpful!
This was really helpful for me! I had just started uni and I suffered from DP/DR twice after heavy drinking. It lasted for a couple of days but it was a terrible feeling. The hardest part was not being understood by the people around me. I wanted to ask whether developing DP/DR as a hangover symptom was do more with underlying conditions as I know it doesn’t happen to everyone? The first time I had it I handled it but I drank again the day I was just about getting out of that state and it left me w/ DP/DR for a longer period of time (a week or two). I’ve stopped drinking as I hate the feeling and it makes me feel super depressed. I just keep wondering is it caused by underlying conditions such as depression or even DP/DR disorder?
Looked this question up because I’m going through it too. I’m bipolar 1 and go through hypermania from time to time as well as depression. I’m thinking this might be the reason for my DP/DR. I’ve always been fine with drinking in social events as I’m 21. Started drinking in high school and never had a problem up until thos last year and a half. I do think my habits of mixing weed and drinking coincide with eachother, then causing anxiety and then this detachment. I’m currently pretty buzzed, hence why I looked this up. I realized I feel so horrible when I drink and my depersonalization becomes worse. As I’d I don’t belong here and the drinking no longer is a coping mechanism. It’s not harming my mental health. I’m someone who usually like to have more than glass when I’m partying since I’m young. Well now I know I can’t. I kept telling myself for the last month I can’t Handel it and some how fell for it. Hopefully things will change…..