Alcohol Depression

Alcohol and depression often go hand in hand. This article offers statistics on alcoholism and depression, and information on studies linking being depressed with drinking. Keep reading to learn more about the effects of alcohol on depression and vice versa.

Alcohol and depression have a multi-faceted relationship and together are linked to other health issues, such as obesity. This article covers some of the basics on how alcohol and depression interconnect.

Alcoholism and depression often go together.  About 30 to 50 percent of people who have alcoholism also are in the throes of major depression. Part of the reason for this is that high-stress or difficult situations and events in life can lead people either to use alcohol in an attempt to feel better or to feel depressed. In addition, a person actually meets the diagnostic criteria for both problems, has a higher risk of attempting or committing suicide. Conversely, of the psychiatric disorders diagnosed in those who attempt suicide, the top two are alcohol abuse and major depression. But there are other possible connections as well as both having a common cause or a common end result.

The combination of alcoholism and depression can start from either direction. First, People who are depressed may seek out alcohol to self-medicate. This can not only deepen their depression, but also lead to suicide. In a 2003 study, it was found that the suicide rate for people with depression and alcoholism was 11%, while for people with depression by itself, the rate was 0.5%. It has also been found that people who are recovering from depression may suffer a relapse if they begin abusing alcohol.

On the other hand, alcohol abuse may cause depression. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in March, 2009, researchers from New Zealand examined whether data showing co-existence of alcohol problems and depression fit three different models: a reciprocal relationship; the alcohol issues causing depression; or major depression causing alcohol problems. The authors of the study found that the model of alcoholism leading to depression was the best fit for their study, which focused on participants ranging in age from 17 to 25.

While the exact causes of the relationship were not clearly revealed by the study, alcohol’s character as a depressant was cited as possibly leading to periods of depression.  In addition, it was proposed that alcohol may trigger a genetic tendency that puts people at risk for major depression under certain conditions. It should be noted, however, that alcoholics may have symptoms that resemble a depressive illness but prove not to be, as in these cases, the symptoms dissipate when the person stops drinking.

A separate study, published in August, 2009 in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, finds that individuals who indulge in “mood-related drinking” may be at risk for both major depression and alcohol dependence. Mood-related drinking in this context refers to the regular use of extreme amounts of alcohol as a coping mechanism, not an occasional drink to relax with.

Alcohol and depression can also be part of larger, more complex relationships. A study published in General Hospital Psychiatry in September/October, 2009 found that women who abused alcohol at age 24 were almost 4 times likelier to suffer from obesity at age 27, and obesity at 27 was responsible for more than doubling the risk of being depressed at age 30.

Studies on domestic violence have found that abuse, particularly recent abuse, is linked to higher rates of depression and alcohol abuse in women than are found in women who have not suffered from abuse. And a French study found that children younger than 18  who were witness to violence between their parents were 1.75 times more likely to become dependent on alcohol and 1.4 times more prone to suffer from depression than those who didn’t.

There are treatment programs that focus on addressing both issues together, which may be the best approach. Trying to treat only one issue at a time may prove ineffective.


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