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.