Drinking and Depression


According to Harvard Health Publications, studies have found that if you have been diagnosed with either depression or alcohol abuse, you have a higher chance of also being diagnosed with the other.

So, does depression lead to alcohol abuse, or is addiction to alcohol a cause for depression?


Both alcoholism and depression have genetic components. It is not unusual to see more than one generation in a family affected by either one. What isn’t clear is whether there is a combined genetic predisposition to both. This is something that researchers are looking at right now.

While it has long been believed that those with depression begin to abuse alcohol in an attempt to find relief from their symptoms, Harvard Medical School of Public Health is the first to have confirmed this. Their research has shown that symptoms of depression tend to precede alcohol abuse or dependence.

Self Medication

Alcohol is a depressant. Yet, in those first hours, as the drinks consumed begin to have an effect, the mood is elevated and the world appears a little brighter. For those suffering with depression, that brief interlude from the pain of their symptoms can be tempting.

Self-medicating is the term medical professionals use. People with depression will seek relief, either because they are not seeking professional assistance or because the professional assistance they are receiving is not relieving them of their symptoms.

Self-medicating might be with alcohol, as it is legal and easily available. It also might be with illicit use of prescription or non-prescription drugs.

Other Risks

It is difficult to determine underlying causes or the severity of depression when alcoholism is overlaying depressive symptoms. If it were possible to gain a few weeks of sobriety it would be easier for the clinician to analyze the patient's status. Unfortunately, sobriety is a very difficult thing to achieve, certainly in the short term. Likewise, ongoing alcohol abuse can mask the benefits of both ongoing psychotherapy and prescription treatment of depression, making it more difficult to bring the patient to a satisfactory outcome.

Conversely, stopping drinking usually leads to a temporary elevation in mood, which is valuable as therapy to address depression continues.

Dual diagnosis patients have been shown to have worse adherence rates when it comes to following treatment plans than single diagnosis patients. This is another consideration for the clinician, and another potential barrier to successful treatment.

Because alcohol is a depressant, it can be extremely dangerous when it is being abused by someone who is potentially suicidal. When someone already feels that life is not worth living, the consumption of alcohol might remove inhibitions to engaging in risk-taking behavior.

Sources: DualDiagnosis.org , Medical News Today and How Stuff Works


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