The Relationship Between Alcoholism and Depression
For many people, the relationship between alcohol and depression is obvious. Their problems with alcohol began in an attempt to self-medicate their depressed mood. After all, a few drinks can make anyone forget their problems – at least temporarily. It can also make them feel better about their situation – until its intoxicating effects wear off and reality hits. This can create a vicious cycle, exacerbating both the depression and the alcohol abuse issue – and the alcohol abuse can easily turn into an addiction.
However, it’s not always so cut and dried…
The connection between alcoholism and depression is much like the causality dilemma about “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Although there is an obviously strong link between the two, it’s often not so easy to determine which came first. Did one condition cause the other? Or was there a predisposition to both?
Since many people never seek help for depression, it’s often impossible to know if they were depressed before they started to abuse alcohol or if the excessive alcohol led to their depression. Most of us can handle an occasional drink to help us unwind, but heavy drinking almost always indicates that there is a problem. Even research pertaining to the link between alcoholism and depression has failed to come up with a conclusive solution.
From Depression to Alcoholism
In teens and adults who suffer from depression, alcoholism is more likely to occur than in those who are not depressed. For many, it is a way of self-medicating their depression, a trend that is seen even more frequently in women than in men or teens. The problem with using alcohol to alleviate feelings of depression stems partially from the fact that alcohol itself is a depressant substance. When used over a long period of time, it will only make depression worse. In fact, it may lead to chronic depression.
Another significant risk from adding alcohol abuse to depression is the increased incident of suicide. While depression alone doesn’t necessarily lead to suicidal thoughts (although it can), adding the depressing effects of alcohol can easily increase feelings of hopelessness and make a person more vulnerable to the idea of “ending it all.”
Anyone who is currently depressed or who has a history of depression should avoid using any alcohol at all. Even when the symptoms of depression have been absent for a long time, drinking alcohol – especially on a regular basis – may cause the symptoms to reappear. This can create a variety of problems including:
- Alcohol can have adverse interactions with antidepressant medications
- Alcohol reduces inhibitions and can have a negative effect on behavior. It also can impair judgment, resulting in high risk behavior that can have serious consequences (e.g. legal problems or contracting a sexually transmitted disease)
- Severe insomnia
- Causing or exacerbating other health conditions
- Negatively impacting important aspects of life, such as significant relationships
- Difficulties at work and possible job loss
- Financial problems due to loss of employment
Regardless of whether the depression or the alcoholism came first, they are much worse when they are present in combination. Both have psychological and physiological symptoms, and treatment must target both types. Depression is not going to go away on its own and neither is alcoholism. The sooner treatment is sought, the less damage they will cause.
Treating Alcoholism and Depression
Many of the alcohol treatment centers in operation today offer a type of treatment called “Dual Diagnosis” treatment. This treatment option is for individuals who have both a drug or alcohol abuse problem in combination with a mood disorder (or other type of psychiatric disorder). Different types of treatment are used to address both the physical and mental components of the addiction and the depression. Each disorder is treated separately, but at the same time.
Dual diagnosis treatment addresses more than the current addiction problem. It also looks at the co-occurring mental issues that may have caused the addiction in the first place. Without addressing these issues, the person is much more likely to relapse and either start using alcohol again or move on to a different type of drug.
It’s important that the individual who struggles with both depression and alcoholism gets help for both conditions. This is especially true for those individuals who are already taking medication for their depression. In addition to the interactions that can be caused by taking antidepressants with alcohol, there are also drugs used in alcohol rehab – particularly during the withdrawal process – that can interfere with them.
So, what is the best insurance against having problems with both depression and alcoholism – particularly at the same time? It lies in getting the appropriate treatment when either of these conditions occurs independently. For anyone who is experiencing symptoms of both conditions, professional help which addresses each condition individually and in combination is the best solution.