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Understanding the Relationship Between Alcohol Abuse and Depression

alcohol and depression

Alcohol abuse and depression are two prevalent, often interconnected, disorders that can have wreak havoc on people’s mental and physical well-being. While alcohol consumption is commonly perceived as a means of coping with uncomfortable emotions, studies have highlighted an intricate relationship between alcohol abuse and depression, revealing a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors.

But First, What is Depression?

Major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and other depressive disorders are treatable mental health disorders that are characterized by symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, or irritable mood that affects the person’s body and mind, including the ability of either to function properly.

While the specific types of depressive disorders are all slightly different, some of the more common symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent “low” mood, feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, frustration, or restlessness
  • Feeling excessively guilty, worthless, helpless, or tentative
  • Losing interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Excessive fatigue or lack of energy
  • Moving or talking more slowly than usual
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Changes in sleep, such as trouble staying asleep or sleeping more than usual
  • Excessive weight loss or weight gain
  • Having thoughts of self-harm or death, including suicidal ideation

The Prevalence of Alcohol Abuse and Depression

Both separate and in combination with each another, alcohol abuse and depression pose significant public health risks. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol contributes to approximately 3 million deaths annually and is a leading risk factor for a slew of health conditions, including liver disease, cancer, and various mental health disorders. Depression, meanwhile, is a leading cause of disability globally, affecting over 260 million people.

The Bidirectional Relationship of Alcohol and Depression

Since alcohol loosens inhibitions, people turn to it to try and cope with the symptoms of their depression. The problem is, alcohol is itself a depressant. This means that when you consume a lot of alcohol, your mood will be negatively impacted, worsening your depression. What’s more, as you continue to consume alcohol, you grow increasingly dependent on it. This can lead to increased depression, as well as an addiction and all the struggles that implies—strained relationships, missing work, isolation, and physical dangers.

Research consistently suggests a “bidirectional relationship” between alcohol abuse and depression. This means each condition can influence the onset, severity, and course of the other. This contributes to a vicious cycle of abuse leading to the impulse to abuse further.

People with depression are more likely to engage in heavy drinking as a form of “self-medication” to alleviate symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety. Conversely, excessive or chronic alcohol consumption can exacerbate the symptoms of depression by disrupting the brain’s neurotransmitter systems, impairing cognitive function, and increasing one’s susceptibility to stress.

The Biological Interplay of Alcohol Abuse and Depression

The relationship between alcohol abuse and depression is mediated by complex neurobiological mechanisms in the brain, involving neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Chronic alcohol abuse disrupts the balance of neurotransmitter systems, leading to dysregulation of mood, reward processing, and stress response. Similarly, depression is characterized by alterations in neurotransmitter function, particularly serotonin and norepinephrine, which play key roles in the regulation of mood.

Psychosocial Factors

Psychosocial factors also contribute to the link between alcohol abuse and depression. Stressful life events, trauma, social isolation, and interpersonal conflicts tend to precipitate both excessive alcohol abuse and depression. Also, people with a family history of alcoholism or depression are genetically predisposed to developing these disorders, further complicating the relationship between the two disorders.

Veterans and Alcohol Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), up to 50 percent of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were diagnosed with depression, PTSD, anxiety, or a chemical dependency upon returning home. Between 11 and 20 percent of those who fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom live with PTSD.

Too often, alcohol consumption becomes a coping mechanism for many veterans living with a mental health disorder like depression. Nearly 23 percent of male veterans have reported participating in binge drinking, or consuming five alcoholic drinks in two hours. Fourteen percent of female veterans have binged, consuming four alcoholic drinks in two hours.

The risks associated with alcohol abuse among veterans include homelessness, suicide, major depression, and challenges at home or in the workplace.

Treatment of Co-Occurring Conditions

Effectively treating alcohol addiction and depression often requires a comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses both disorders at the same time. This is known in medical circles as “dual diagnosis” treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Psychosocial therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), and group therapy can help people learn and develop coping skills, enhance social support, and identify healthier ways of managing stress. Meanwhile, medications for alcohol withdrawal and depression can be prescribed to help people manage symptoms and cravings.

By addressing both alcohol abuse and depression at the same time, clinicians can help patients achieve better outcomes and improve their overall health and quality of life.

Meanwhile, raising awareness about the chemical and psychosocial interplay of these conditions helps reduce stigma. It also promotes help-seeking behavior, and fosters a greater understanding of the challenges faced by those affected by these disorders.

By addressing the underlying causes and consequences of these disorders, more people can receive the resources they need. In doing so, they can lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Reach Out to Northpoint Recovery to Find Inpatient Drug Rehab near Meridian, ID

Inpatient addiction and mental health treatment in Idaho can benefit all state residents. For this and other reasons, inpatient drug rehab in Meridian, ID, may appeal to you or your loved one. The team at Northpoint Recovery will meet your needs with a full slate of inpatient recovery services. To find out more, call 888.296.8976 or contact our team online today.