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Navigation: Is Alcohol Use Disorder Tied to Depression?, What is Depression?, Major Depressive Disorder and Other Depressive Disorders, Signs and Symptoms of Depression, How is Depression Diagnosed?, Does Alcohol Cause Depression?, Can Alcohol Use Disorders Make Depression Worse?, Treatment for Co-Occurring Depression and Alcohol Use Disorder, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


One of the most common questions surrounding alcohol abuse is whether or not it has anything to do with depression. It is a well-known fact that drug abuse tends to have an effect on a person’s state of mind. It is entirely possible for a substance use disorder such as alcohol dependence to lead to a mental illness such as depression.

But it is important to take a look at the exact relationship between these two disorders. How are they connected? Do they really cause one another? If you or someone you love is struggling with depression or alcohol abuse, you may want the answer to these questions.

Here we will be talking about depression, the different types of depressive disorders, and how alcohol ties into them. Let’s take a closer look.


Is Alcohol Use Disorder Tied to Depression?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) and depression are often interconnected and have the potential to influence each other in complex ways. Before we get into detail about this, it is important to note that AUD and depression are distinct conditions. However, they do co-occur very often. When they do, they tend to exacerbate each other’s symptoms.

Research has previously shown that there is a bidirectional relationship between depressive disorders and alcohol use disorders, meaning both can exist together, worsen each other’s symptoms, and increase the risk for the other disorder.

Individuals with depression may be more vulnerable to developing alcohol use disorder. Some people with depression turn to alcohol as a means of self-medication, hoping it will alleviate their symptoms temporarily. It goes without saying this is not a good idea since alcohol is a depressant and can worsen depressive symptoms in the long run.

Drinking alcohol affects the brain’s chemistry, disrupting the balance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which play a crucial role in regulating mood and emotions. This can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms.

Additionally, people with alcohol use disorder often experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit or reduce their alcohol consumption. Common withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, irritability, and mood swings, which can worsen the existing symptoms of depression. This can also make it more difficult to differentiate between the effects of alcohol withdrawal and depression.

The consequences of excessive drinking can impact many different aspects of a person’s life. It can lead to relationship problems, work or academic difficulties, financial troubles, and legal issues. These problems can contribute to feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and low self-esteem, which are common in depression.

AUD and depression even have some shared underlying risk factors, which we will discuss more later on. Having these factors can increase the likelihood of developing both conditions at the same time.

Another thing that’s important to mention is that just because you have one condition doesn’t automatically mean you will develop the other. But the co-occurrence of these conditions is relatively common. Regardless of which one developed first, both of these issues are among the most prevalent psychiatric disorders.

Seeking professional help from a healthcare provider or mental health specialist is recommended if you have a co-occurring disorder. They can provide an accurate diagnosis, develop an appropriate treatment plan, and offer support tailored to the individual’s specific needs.


What is Depression?

To fully understand the connection between AUD and depression, we need to understand what the latter condition is.

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness as well as a variety of physical and cognitive symptoms. It’s more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. Everyone feels blue from time to time, and that is perfectly normal. While it’s common for people to call these temporary bouts of sadness as “feeling depressed”, it’s not necessarily clinical depression.

Clinical depression is more than just experiencing the periodic sadness caused by life’s challenges. It is a medical condition that affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, and daily functioning. They may lose interest in things that they used to enjoy. They may have a persistent feeling of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness.

A depressed individual may experience symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, excessive sleeping, restlessness, slowed movements and speech, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide. They may have excessive feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Loved ones may also notice changes in their appearance and behavior. They may display significant changes in weight and appetite (it can either increase or decrease). They may also struggle to remember things, make decisions, and concentrate on tasks.

The severity of depression can vary from mild to severe. Some people may experience one episode of depression, while others may have recurrent episodes throughout their lives.

There are many possible causes for this complex mental health condition. It can be a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. However, sometimes depression can arise without any obvious triggers.

Similar to substance use disorders, depression has a set of risk factors that can contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing the condition.

While the exact cause of depression is not fully understood, several risk factors have been identified. Having risk factors does not guarantee that you will eventually develop depression, but having several risk factors means you have an increased risk for it. Here are some common risk factors associated with depression:

Genetic and family history: Having a family history of depression increases the likelihood of developing the condition. Genetic factors are believed to play a role in predisposing individuals to depression.

Brain chemistry and biology: Imbalances in certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, have been linked to depression. Additionally, changes in brain structure and function can contribute to the development of depression.

Personal or family history of mental health disorders: Individuals who have previously experienced other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or bipolar disorder, have a higher risk of developing depression. Having a history of substance abuse or a family history of mental health disorders can also increase the risk.

Life events and trauma: Certain life events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, financial difficulties, job loss, or other significant stressors, can trigger or contribute to depression. Traumatic experiences, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, can also increase the risk.

Chronic illnesses: Chronic medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain can be associated with an increased risk of depression. The impact of living with a chronic illness, managing symptoms, and the limitations it may impose can contribute to depression.

Substance abuse: Substance abuse and addiction can both contribute to and result from depression. Individuals who misuse drugs or alcohol may increase their vulnerability to developing depression.

Personality factors: Certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem, pessimism, perfectionism, or being highly self-critical, can be associated with an increased risk of depression.

Gender: Women tend to experience depression at higher rates than men. Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum period, and menopause, as well as factors related to societal and cultural expectations, may contribute to this higher risk.

Social isolation and lack of support: Individuals who have limited social support networks, feel socially isolated, or lack close relationships may be at a higher risk of depression.

Because depression is such a complex condition, each individual’s experience can vary.

Major Depressive Disorder and Other Depressive Disorders

Depression isn’t just one thing. There are actually several types that you can get diagnosed with. Understanding the type of depressive disorder you have can go a long way during treatment.

Major depressive disorder or MDD is also known as clinical depression. MDD involves experiencing a depressed mood and other severe symptoms that need to be present for at least two weeks in order to receive the diagnosis.

It often affects a person’s daily functioning and can be accompanied by various symptoms such as changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Persistent depressive disorder or PDD is formerly known as dysthymia. PDD is characterized by a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. In children and adolescents, they only need a year to get diagnosed with PDD.

While the symptoms may not be as severe as MDD, they are chronic and can significantly impact a person’s quality of life.

Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. It typically occurs during the winter months when there is less sunlight. Symptoms include low mood, increased sleep, weight gain, and a lack of energy.

It’s worth noting that SAD can occur any time of the year. In fact, some individuals experience “summer depression” with symptoms occurring during the warmer months.

Postpartum depression or PDD is also known as perinatal depression. It is a depressive disorder that occurs after childbirth. It is different from the “baby blues,” which are temporary mood swings that many women experience after giving birth. PPD can manifest with symptoms such as sadness, irritability, difficulty bonding with the baby, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and thoughts of harming oneself or the baby.

Psychotic depression is a severe form of depression that is accompanied by psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. Individuals with psychotic depression may experience a distorted perception of reality.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that involves periods of major depression alternating with periods of mania or hypomania. During the depressive episodes, individuals experience symptoms similar to those of MDD. However, during manic or hypomanic episodes, they may exhibit elevated mood, increased energy, impulsivity, racing thoughts, and a decreased need for sleep.

Bipolar disorder is different from depression, but a person with bipolar disorder may experience episodes of low or irritable moods that meet the criteria of MDD.

These are some of the common types of depressive disorders, but it’s important to note that each person’s experience may vary. It is necessary to seek professional help so that doctors and healthcare providers can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

The symptoms of depression can vary from person to person. It’s worth noting that some of these symptoms listed do not necessarily indicate depression. Having more than one of these symptoms may be a sign of depression. It’s best to get a professional opinion if you or someone you care about is exhibiting these signs and symptoms.

The most common sign of depression is persistent sadness or a low mood. Depressed individuals may feel sad, empty, or hopeless most of the day, nearly every day. They will lose interest or enjoyment in activities that they used to enjoy, including hobbies, food, socializing, or sex. They may also avoid social interactions, avoiding friends, family, or social events, preferring isolation.

Other common symptoms include: weight changes, sleep disturbances, fatigue, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, trouble concentrating, irritability, and restlessness.

Depressed individuals may also suffer from unexplained physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, or body aches without any apparent cause or relief.

In some cases, depressed people will have persistent thoughts of death, dying or self-harm. It is important to seek immediate professional help if someone you love is exhibiting suicidal behavior.

How is Depression Diagnosed?

Depression is typically diagnosed through a combination of clinical assessment, medical evaluation, and psychological screening. It all starts with an initial assessment.

A healthcare professional, such as a primary care physician or a mental health specialist, will conduct an initial evaluation to gather information about the person’s symptoms, medical history, and overall well-being. This may involve an interview wherein the client discusses their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and any physical symptoms they may be experiencing.

The healthcare professional will refer to widely accepted diagnostic criteria, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

The DSM-5 outlines specific criteria that must be met for a diagnosis of depression to be made. These criteria include the presence of certain symptoms over a specific duration of time. They will assess the severity of the symptoms as well as their impact on the person’s daily functioning.

This evaluation helps determine the appropriate treatment approach and level of care required.

During the medical evaluation, any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to or mimicking the symptoms of depression must be ruled out. Physical examinations and laboratory tests may be conducted to identify other potential medical causes.

The persistence of certain symptoms is necessary to the diagnosis of depression. This helps differentiate clinical depression from temporary fluctuations in mood.

The healthcare professional will also consider other mental health disorders that may share similar symptoms with depression. This process helps ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning. Conditions like bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and adjustment disorders may need to be ruled out or diagnosed concurrently.

In some cases, the healthcare professional may involve other members of the healthcare team, such as psychiatrists or psychologists, to provide additional assessments, insights, or specialized diagnostic tools.

The diagnostic process will be carried out by qualified healthcare professionals who are trained in mental health assessment and diagnosis. They are equipped with various screening tools that will help them properly assess the severity of depression.

Does Alcohol Cause Depression?

Alcohol can have a complex relationship with depression. One study from JAMA Psychiatry suggests that there may be a direct cause and effect association between alcohol misuse and major depressive disorder. Not only can alcohol use lead to depressive symptoms but it can also worsen them.

So while it is not accurate to say that alcohol directly causes depression, it can contribute to its development and exacerbate its symptoms.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it slows down brain activity. While it may initially induce a feeling of relaxation or euphoria, excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, including those involved in mood regulation. This can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety.

Many people with depression turn to alcohol as a means of self-medication. They drink to cope with their emotional pain. Alcohol can provide temporary relief or numbness, but it does not address the underlying issues and can ultimately worsen depressive symptoms.

Alcohol’s depressive effects can also lead to fatigue, disrupted sleep patterns, and reduced energy levels, which can mimic or worsen depressive symptoms.

On top of all this, abruptly stopping or significantly reducing alcohol consumption after long-term heavy use can trigger a range of physical and psychological symptoms, including depression. These symptoms may be part of alcohol withdrawal or rebound effects and can further complicate the relationship between alcohol and depression.

Simply put, depression and alcohol use disorders often coexist. The presence of one can increase the risk of developing the other. This dual diagnosis requires specialized treatment to address both conditions simultaneously.

Can Alcohol Use Disorders Make Depression Worse?

The short answer is yes: alcohol can make depression worse. Those who turn to alcohol to cope with their stressors are only making things more difficult for them in the long run. Alcohol is a depressant and can have negative effects on mental health.

As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can slow down brain activity and intensify feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair that are commonly associated with depression.

If you are taking antidepressant medication, alcohol can interfere with its effectiveness. Alcohol can diminish the positive effects of medication and potentially increase the risk of side effects.

The duration of alcohol-induced depression may vary widely. But generally speaking, depressive symptoms associated with alcohol-induced depression have been shown to improve significantly after three to four weeks, provided that you have abstained from alcohol during that period.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Depression and Alcohol Use Disorder

If a person has both depression and an alcohol use disorder at the same time, it is important to receive specialized treatment called dual diagnosis treatment.

The treatment for co-occurring depression and alcohol use disorder typically involves an integrated approach that addresses both conditions simultaneously. Since both conditions have the tendency to worsen one another, it is necessary to deal with both of them together.

A thorough evaluation by a mental health professional will be conducted to assess the severity of both conditions. This will also help recognize any underlying factors contributing to them. This assessment will guide the development of an appropriate treatment plan.

If an individual with co-occurring depression and alcohol use disorder is physically dependent on alcohol, a medically supervised detoxification or medical detox may be conducted to manage the person’s withdrawal symptoms safely.

Detox is typically followed by psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. Different forms of therapy can be effective in treating both depression and alcohol use disorder. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is commonly used and focuses on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to substance use.

Motivational interviewing and contingency management are other therapeutic approaches that can be beneficial.

Antidepressant medications may be prescribed to manage the symptoms of depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants are also commonly used.

Participation in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA) can provide valuable peer support and a sense of community for individuals dealing with co-occurring disorders.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is also crucial in the recovery process. Engaging in regular physical exercise, practicing stress-reduction techniques, improving your sleep hygiene, and maintaining a balanced diet can help fight depression symptoms.

Specialized treatment programs that specifically address co-occurring disorders are highly recommended. These programs often involve a multidisciplinary team of professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, addiction specialists, and social workers.

Remember, the best treatment plans are personalized to address the unique needs of each individual. Everyone experiences addiction differently, so the exact treatment approach will vary depending on the person’s symptoms and circumstances.

It’s okay to drink alcohol every now and then to celebrate or enjoy the company of your friends. But if it becomes problematic behavior that turns into a mental health problem, it is important to seek treatment. Look for a rehab near you today to fight the effects of depression and AUD.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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