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Depression and Alcoholism

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Connection Betweeen Depression and Alcoholism

Does drinking alcohol lead to depression? Does depression cause alcoholism? What role does alcohol play in the development of depression symptoms and other mental health conditions? It’s easy to wonder if there is any connection at all.

Navigation: What Causes Depression?, Alcohol Use Disorder, Depression and Mental Health, Can Alcohol Abuse Make Depression Worse?, Signs and Symptoms of Depression, Types of Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Psychotic Depression, Persistent Depressive Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, How is Depression Diagnosed?, Alcohol and Depression Treatment, Rehab is Your Best Chance


If you look at cases of people with alcoholism, it seems common for them to have a co-occurring mental health condition such as depression. It’s easy to wonder if these two things are connected.

Does drinking alcohol lead to depression? Does depression cause alcoholism? What role does alcohol play in the development of depression symptoms and other mental health conditions? It’s easy to wonder if there is any connection at all.

You may want to take a closer look at this subject if you or someone you love is struggling with these conditions. Here we will be talking about the relationship between alcohol and depression.


What Causes Depression?

It’s perfectly normal to feel sad or blue every now and then. People might even say they feel “depressed” during these times. But being in a depressed mood is different from having depression. Having temporary bouts of sadness is ordinary, but clinical depression is a mental health condition that requires proper treatment.

Clinical depression goes beyond the usual experience of going through life’s ups and downs. It is not just caused by daily issues you face in life. It’s not periodic sadness or being in a bad mood.

Major depressive disorder and other depressive disorders are characterized by symptoms of emptiness, sadness, or irritability. These symptoms persist within a person’s mind, affecting their ability to function. As you can see, sadness is just one of its symptoms.

While anyone can experience these symptoms, it doesn’t mean that they automatically have clinical depression. There are several risk factors for depressive disorders. Anyone can be affected by them.

For starters, depression has a genetic factor. A family history of depression is considered a risk factor. If you have family members that have this condition, you are more likely to develop it yourself. However, this does not guarantee that you will actually become depressed at some point in your life. The risk is just greater compared to other people who do not have it in their genes. In fact, first-degree family members of people with major depressive disorder have a risk that is two to four-times higher than the general population.

Aside from genetics and heritability, there are other biological risk factors that come into play. For example, a person’s physical health can affect their mental health. Having a serious medical illness like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer can influence the development of depression and other mental health disorders.

Even the levels of brain chemicals or neurotransmitters within your brain can sometimes become imbalanced and lead to depression.

Other risk factors are external. A person’s environment, as well as their situation and relationships with other people can contribute to depression. Having a low socioeconomic status, becoming unemployed, living in a toxic home environment, or using illicit substances can increase a person’s risk of developing depression.

Stress, trauma, and major life changes are considered risk factors. Losing a loved one can lead to grief, which is also a risk factor for depression. Experiencing any of these things during your childhood is an even bigger risk factor.

It is worth noting that not everyone with these risk factors will develop depression, but the risk for them is greater. The more risk factors you are exposed to, the greater the risk of developing depression.

Even taking certain medications, even if it’s for another condition, can cause depression symptoms.

The good news is that this condition is treatable. But before we talk about treatment options, we need to discuss its relationship with alcohol misuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction.


Alcohol Use Disorder, Depression and Mental Health

The short answer is yes: research has shown that there is some sort of relationship between depressive disorders and alcohol use disorder (AUD), which we also know as alcoholism or alcohol addiction. This suggests that one condition can cause or influence the other.

When these conditions exist together at the same time, this is called a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. These two conditions tend to worsen one another: alcoholism can worsen depression and the other way around. This leads to a downward spiral that can easily overwhelm a person.

Dealing with an addiction is hard enough. The same can be said for a mental health disorder. Having both at the same time can be very difficult for an individual to deal with. It doesn’t matter which one came first.

Unfortunately, these are some of the most common psychiatric disorders. Therefore they often co-occur.

Those who are struggling with drug and alcohol dependence may become depressed because of their condition. Or it can happen the other way around, with a depressed individual turning to alcohol to manage their symptoms or make themselves feel better for a little while. Of course this is a short term solution that only leads to even bigger problems down the line. Their substance abuse can lead to a full-blown addiction. For people suffering from depression, alcohol can become their solution.

Depression symptoms can make a person feel hopeless. They can experience symptoms like anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and restlessness. Their intense feelings of sadness can change the way they act. These behavioral changes then affect many other aspects of their life, including their personal relationships, their responsibilities, their career, their goals, their finances, etc. They may struggle to get anything done. Drinking alcohol can become their way to escape their current reality. Self-medicating with alcohol has its consequences, however.

Some people have a genetic predisposition to both conditions. This means the relationship between alcohol abuse and depression is complicated.

A dual diagnosis is associated with greater severity than having either condition alone. People who are suffering from both disorders are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts, for example. As difficult as it may be to overcome, both of these conditions can be treated effectively.

Can Alcohol Abuse Make Depression Worse?

Alcohol abuse can contribute to the development of depression. Depression can lead someone to self-medicate with alcohol and develop an alcohol use disorder.

While there is definitely a relationship between the two, this does not always mean someone with either condition will end up with a dual diagnosis. Just like other risk factors, this only means they are at greater risk of having a co-occurring disorder.

Alcohol can definitely make depression worse if you already have it. Unfortunately, some people are drawn towards alcohol whenever they are feeling the symptoms of their clinical depression.

A clinical review in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice also explained that alcohol abuse can interfere with recovery from clinical depression. Heavy drinkers tend to have worse outcomes when it comes to depression treatment. The study even showed that depression can be worsened by even small amounts of alcohol. Those who are going through treatment for depression should stay away from alcoholic drinks.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

If you think someone you love is dealing with depression, you need to know what signs and symptoms to look out for. People have to display symptoms of depressive disorder almost every day for at least two weeks before they can be diagnosed with the condition.

Depressive symptoms tend to be debilitating. They can become severe to the point where the person struggles in various aspects of their life. This can add stress and prevent them from functioning on a social or occupational level.

The different types of depression may produce different symptoms, but a few are generally shared across all types. Depressed individuals typically have a persistent feeling of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness. They will struggle with a low mood and feelings of hopelessness or pessimism. A depressed person will also exhibit signs such as frustration, irritability, or restlessness.

Your loved one may feel worthless or guilty for no apparent reason. They may show a lack of interest in things they used to enjoy. They may move or talk more slowly than usual or just show a general lack of energy.

Family members and friends are usually the first ones to notice these behavioral changes. They may see that their loved one is struggling to think, make decisions, and remember things.

Other behavioral changes to watch out for are: changes in sleeping patterns, changes in appetite, significant weight changes, and having thoughts of self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

Depression can also cause certain physical symptoms like aches, pains, cramps, headaches, and digestive problems that do not improve with treatment.

For those with an alcohol-induced depression, the duration of such a condition may vary widely. Depressive symptoms that are associated with alcohol abuse tend to disappear after a certain period without alcohol. In most cases, this may last for three to four weeks.

Whether it’s alcohol-induced depression or clinical depression, it is important to look after your loved ones and watch out for the signs and symptoms of depression. This way, you can support them and help them find the appropriate care.

Types of Depression

Depression can come in different forms. And since depression can take control of a person’s life so quickly, knowing the different types of depression can go a long way in helping your loved one recover.

Some forms of depression are more severe than others. Perhaps the most severe depression is the one that comes with a co-occurring alcohol use disorder. Let’s take a closer look at the various types of depression and the symptoms associated with them.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression that is associated with changes in light caused by the shifting of the seasons. SAD symptoms usually begin to emerge during the fall. It then worsens during the winter season due to the lack of light: thus, the term “winter blues”.

This is also why the gloomy mood tends to shift into something more optimistic during the spring and summer.

For a formal SAD diagnosis, the individual must have symptoms for at least two consecutive years. The symptoms of SAD include: oversleeping, irritability, significant weight changes, and changes in appetite. People with seasonal affective disorder also tend to experience a feeling of heaviness in their arms and legs for no apparent reason.

Some people try to cope by drinking alcohol during these gloomy months. But as we all know, this pattern can be self-destructive as it can lead to alcoholism if left unchecked. It is possible for the person to develop physical dependence, which means they can no longer function normally without taking a drink. Their body has become dependent on alcohol. Quitting at this point will lead to intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms, which may also lead to relapse.

Psychotic Depression

Psychotic depression is a form of severe depression that involves delusions, paranoia, or hallucinations. A person with psychotic depression may hear voices or think that someone is out to hurt them.

Aside from these, here are other signs of psychotic depression: insomnia, extreme mood swings, and incoherent speech. You may also notice that the person is neglecting self-care. They will neglect their hygiene and stop taking care of themselves.

If you combine psychotic depression with alcohol abuse, it can put your life in danger. This is one of those instances wherein the person may become a danger to himself or other people. Alcohol can worsen the effects of psychotic depression instead of calming the person down. It can intensify their paranoia and lead to bizarre behavior.

If a person has a dual diagnosis of psychotic depression and alcohol use disorder, and they suddenly try to quit drinking, their body may go into shock. To prevent complications, it is important for the person to receive professional treatment from medical professionals.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent Depressive Disorder is a type of depression wherein the symptoms have recurred for at least two years. Also known as dysthymia, the symptoms of persistent depressive disorder are rarely uniform. The experience may be completely different from one individual to another.

For people with persistent depressive disorder, some weeks may be worse than others. There may be months when they would only experience minor signs of depression, and other times when they experience more severe symptoms.

The symptoms of persistent depressive disorder include: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, having feelings of worthlessness, and having low self-esteem. As a result of their symptoms, they may try to avoid social gatherings or neglect their responsibilities.

Due to the nature of this depressive disorder, people who have it are more likely to develop a substance use disorder. They may self-medicate with drugs and alcohol just to fight the effects of their mental health condition. However, a dual diagnosis will only take an even greater toll on the person’s physical and mental health. It can even hurt the people around them.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder or major depression is considered the most serious type of depression. This is when a person’s depressive symptoms interfere with their daily life, preventing them from accomplishing even the most basic tasks.

Interestingly, around 20 to 25 percent of all US adults will experience a major depressive episode at least once in their lives.

People with major depressive disorder have extreme feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. They are only able to see the negative in different situations. This can take a serious toll on their physical health as well as their relationships with other people.

Signs of major depressive disorder include excessive crying, low energy, insomnia, hypersomnia, irritability, and recurring thoughts of suicide. It can affect the way they think, sleep, eat, and behave on a day to day basis.

Because of the relationship between depression and alcohol, drinking should be avoided if a person has major depressive disorder or any other type of depression. In some cases, drinking alcohol when you have depression can have life-threatening effects.

How is Depression Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose depression, physicians and psychologists typically use a combination of physical exams, lab tests, and psychological evaluations. These tests not only confirm depression but also identify the type of depression present in the patient.

The tests are also meant to rule out possible health conditions like thyroid problems or viruses. Once they have eliminated these other possibilities and confirmed the symptoms, they can reach a formal diagnosis.

During the psychological evaluation, the patient may be asked certain questions regarding their symptoms. The duration and frequency of their symptoms will be assessed.

If you are going through this assessment, you may expect questions like: “how often have you felt sad, hopeless, or depressed in the past several weeks?” or “how much uninterrupted sleep do you get each night”. They may also ask about suicidal thoughts, the use of alcohol or recreational drugs, and the fluctuations in your mood.

They may also ask about how the symptoms have interfered with your personal and professional responsibilities. After this evaluation stage, the doctor will talk about the findings and possible treatment options.

If a person has a dual diagnosis of depression and alcohol use disorder, they may get a recommendation for a treatment program that specifically tackles these conditions at the same time.

Alcohol and Depression Treatment

Depression and alcoholism have a close relationship. While one does not always cause the other, suffering from both of these conditions at the same time can be debilitating. For those who have a dual diagnosis, it is important to understand how treatment works and what to expect from the treatment process.

Don’t lose hope: even the most severe forms of depression and alcoholism can be treated. Of course, it’s much better if the person can receive treatment as early as possible.

Some rehab facilities specialize in dual diagnosis treatment. They treat both of these co-occurring conditions at the same time. This approach acknowledges the close connection between alcohol use disorder and certain mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. If you want to treat one, you cannot ignore the other. This is called an integrated approach.

Not only are these treatments safe and effective, but they also help people who are trying to get back to living a sober and happy life.

Different facilities may use different approaches, but most of them will use a combination of detox, medications, and behavioral therapies.

Medical detox is usually the first step in a complete addiction treatment program. This stage of treatment is all about addressing the physical effects of alcohol abuse and addiction. With withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and other health problems, it can be extremely difficult for a person to focus on their recovery. Detox helps you get sober so you can focus on learning how to maintain your sobriety.

During detox, the patient’s alcohol intake is gradually lowered. Their withdrawal symptoms are managed by medical professionals. Their goal is to keep the patient safe and comfortable throughout the withdrawal stage. While withdrawal is an uncomfortable and painful stage for anyone in recovery, health care professionals can at least reduce the discomfort and reduce the risk of life-threatening withdrawal.

Medications such as antidepressants may be administered during treatment to help with the co-occurring symptoms of depression. Other medications may be used to fight the symptoms of AUD, reduce the effects of withdrawal, and eliminate cravings.

Naltrexone is a medication that is used in treatment because it helps people stop drinking and also reduces depression symptoms. Some medications help reduce the desire to drink alcohol, which will help in your recovery efforts.

While detox is there to help a patient get sober, behavioral therapies are used to help them maintain their sobriety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is an example of therapy used during treatment for alcoholism and depression. This treatment helps patients learn healthy coping mechanisms which they can use to fight toxic behaviors and unhealthy thought patterns. In the long run, they will be able to use these coping mechanisms once they are out of rehab and working on maintaining their long term sobriety.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT is another form of treatment that is used to reduce the tendency for self-harm and suicidal behavior.

These therapies address the root causes of addictive behavior and mental health disorders. They help patients recognize unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors that fuel their desire to drink alcohol. It helps them unlearn behaviors that are getting in the way of their sobriety. They will learn to regulate their mood as well as their emotions. This way, they can seek more positive life experiences.

There are plenty of treatment options available out there, whether you have depression, an alcohol use disorder, or both. Choosing a rehab facility can be overwhelming, but you can narrow down your choices based on location, the type of treatments they offer, and what they specialize in. In fact, you should focus on looking for treatment facilities that offer dual diagnosis treatment. Look for a rehab near you today.


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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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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