The misuse of alcohol and depression are closely linked. Many people who suffer from depression, especially those who have not been diagnosed and treated, turn to alcohol to numb emotional pain. In fact, about one-third of alcoholics also experience a depressive disorder.
Unfortunately, excessive alcohol use ends up having the opposite effect. Alcohol is a CNS (central nervous system) depressant that decreases activity in the brain and body. Research has revealed that alcohol use increases both the intensity and duration of depressive episodes. It also increases the likelihood of experiencing suicidal ideations.
Alcoholism can cause the development of other life stressors, such as those related to financial, legal, and family issues that exacerbate depression. Moreover, if a depressed person turns to alcohol to make themselves feel better, a vicious cycle of abuse has begun that can be extremely challenging to break.
Alcoholism can also lead to depression in many circumstances. Extended alcohol abuse can significantly alter and rewire the brain and affect other chemical balances in the body. This is especially true regarding the brain’s neurotransmitters that regulate emotions and other vital bodily functions. These widespread changes can ultimately result in depression.
Prolonged, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD), a condition hallmarked by problematic drinking that includes a broad spectrum of alcohol abuse instances.
Symptoms of alcohol use disorder include the following:
- Considerable time spent drinking
- Neglecting other activities to drink
- Having strong cravings for alcohol
- Repeatedly drinking to excess or for too long
- Drinking during dangerous activities, such as while driving
- Continued drinking despite incurring emotional consequences, such as depression or anxiety
- Continuing to drink despite the adverse effects on relationships and other areas of one’s life
Depression is a potentially severe mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or helplessness. It can infiltrate nearly every aspect of a person’s life and significantly affect those around them. Depression often results in problems with friends and family, as well as challenges in the workplace. Furthermore, it substantially increases the risk of developing other health disorders and places the person at a much higher risk of suicide.
Unfortunately, depression is a remarkably common disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the condition affects one in every 15 individuals.
The APA states that a person can be diagnosed with depression if they present with any of the following symptoms for two weeks or longer:
- Loss of interest in activities
- Erratic sleep patterns
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Concentration problems
- Suicidal thoughts
The onset of depression is related to a myriad of factors. Some individuals are genetically vulnerable to depression. Personality can also play a key role. Individuals that exhibit low self-esteem are also more vulnerable to developing some degree of depression.
Environmental factors, especially those associated with childhood, play a fundamental role in developing depression. Although all of these factors may contribute to the likelihood that a person will experience depression, their presence does not ensure they will get the condition.
How Depression Leads to Alcoholism
Some people consume alcohol in an attempt to cope with depression. Individuals can be attracted to the sedative and euphoric effects of alcohol as a kind of self-medication that distracts them from persistent feelings of sadness. While alcohol may temporarily reduce some symptoms of depression, it ultimately serves to exacerbate the disorder when used on a chronic basis.
Alcoholism is associated with a variety of adverse effects on nearly every aspect of life. As an individual begins to experience financial and legal issues resulting from alcohol abuse and their relationships begin to incur damage, depression can get much worse. This fact often leads to a disturbing cycle of alcohol abuse as a means to self-medicate symptoms of depression while the person’s mood is actually spiraling downward.
All the while, however, the depression is actually getting worse with continuous use. Some individuals have overlapping genetic predispositions that make them more vulnerable to both depression and the abuse of substances, such as alcohol. What’s more, the onset of one condition can trigger the other.
Those who suffer from depression who use antidepressants to manage the condition can experience additional alcohol abuse problems. Alcohol abuse makes antidepressants less effective, and the depressant effects of the alcohol further exacerbate the now inadequately controlled depression.
How Alcohol Abuse Causes Depression
While depression can put an individual at a higher risk of developing an alcohol disorder, the inverse is equally common. According to NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), depression can manifest and increase while a person is an active alcoholic. As noted, this uptick in depression can then lead to more drinking, thereby continuing this cycle from the other side.
According to a study published in the journal Addiction, people who are dealing with either alcoholism or depression double their risk of experiencing the other disorder. Investigators concluded that this phenomenon is a mere correlation. Indeed, alcohol use disorders and depression tend to be intricately bound up in a reciprocating causal relationship that is difficult to break.
The study also revealed that alcohol abuse is more likely to produce major depression than the other way around, though the causality can travel in either direction. There were associations found between the neurophysiological and metabolic changes brought about by alcohol use and the mechanisms for depression to occur. Altogether, the findings revealed that abuse of alcohol places a person at a significantly higher risk of developing depression than an individual who is not abusing it.
It is clear that alcohol abuse can lead to depression, and depression can also contribute to alcohol abuse. This relationship can be cyclical. An individual can get caught up going back and forth between abusing alcohol and then using alcohol in a misguided attempt to relieve the depression that results.
This can prove to be a challenging pair of co-occurring conditions to treat, and professional help is usually needed. If an individual encounters feelings of depression due to alcohol abuse, it’s likely that these symptoms will wane some time after alcohol use has been discontinued.
Treatment for Alcoholism and Depression
Alcoholism and depression can both be harrowing disorders. For an individual suffering from both disorders simultaneously, though, life can be especially troubling and often leads to worse outcomes overall. Because depression and alcoholism often co-occur, many addiction rehab centers, such as Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers, are clinically prepared to address both disorders concurrently.
Comprehensive, evidence-based treatment is the most effective way to recover from both disorders fully. If only one condition is addressed without the other, relapse is significantly more likely.
Behavioral therapy and counseling are two of the most effective ways to fight both alcoholism and depression. Our centers offer these services in partial hospitalization and inpatient formats. Our highly-trained staff of health professionals and addiction specialists is dedicated to providing every person we treat with the knowledge and support they need to recover and foster the healthy and fulfilling lives they deserve.
If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol abuse and depression, we urge you to contact us today. Discover how we help people escape the chains of addiction and become able to enjoy long-lasting wellness and sobriety!