Is There A Link Between Alcoholism And Depression

At Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we admit thousands of individuals into alcohol rehab centres each and every year. Because of this, we often get asked whether alcoholism is linked to depression. To address this question appropriately, we have decided to dedicate an entire article to this important subject.

Categories of depression

Below we list the various types of depression that you may result in alcoholism:

  • Minor depression lasting less than a few days
  • Clinical depression lasting longer than two weeks
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Postpartum depression
  • Psychotic depression

Symptoms of Depression

Below we list common symptoms of depression. You:

  • Commonly feel drained of energy
  • Are unable to sleep at night
  • Eat an excessive amount of food to comfort you
  • Forget routine tasks
  • Struggle to get out of bed in the morning
  • No longer enjoy hobbies you before enjoyed
  • Are pessimistic about your future
  • Experience body aches for no apparent reason
  • Find it hard to concentrate
  • Abuse drugs/alcohol to feel better about yourself
  • Feel life lacks real meaning
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Disassociate with the world around you
  • Are reluctant to socialise with others, even close friends and family

New research revealing alcoholism is often a symptom, not the cause of depression

A difficult conundrum for addiction experts is determining whether alcoholism is the cause of depression or whether alcoholism is a symptom of depression. In determining this important question, rehab centres typically carry out a comprehensive psychological assessment upon admission into their care.  However, research conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism claims that for the vast majority of people, alcoholism is a symptom of an underlying mental condition and not the cause.

The majority of people suffering from alcoholism started to suffer from depression from an early age, typically during childhood. This depression is usually triggered by a traumatic event such as abusive parents, divorced parents or sexual abuse. Upon entering early adulthood, many of these traumatised young adults turn to drugs and alcohol as a ‘release’ from their worries. Adults who did not suffer a traumatic childhood are far less likely to develop alcohol dependency.


A study involving 15,000 people illustrating the link between alcoholism and depression

One study conducted at Harvard University in America involved interviewing 15,000 twice over a one year period. After one year had lapsed those who reported signs of depression during the first interview were much more likely to have suffered from alcohol dependency over the next twelve months compared to interviewees who did not report any symptoms of depression.

However, the study also revealed those who suffered from alcoholism were more likely to suffer from depression over the course of the year. In both scenarios, women were at a greater risk than men of developing both depression and alcoholism.

But can alcoholism cause depression?

The answer to the above question is a resounding yes, at least according to numerous studies that examine the neurotoxic effects that alcohol exposure has on the brain. This is known as ‘alcohol induced depression’.

Let’s not forget that alcohol consumption makes you more likely to commit acts that they will later regret. In turn, these acts may lead to depression. Excessive alcohol drinking could lead to poor professional, social or financial decisions that in turn lead to your depression.

Depression and alcohol withdrawal

Depression may also arise when a person suffering from alcoholism attempts sobriety. Below we list reasons why depression may arise when sobriety is attempted:

  • Alcohol withdrawal produces significant anxiety symptoms
  • Cravings for alcohol can present as depression
  • Coping with the effects of long periods of drinking leads to depression e.g. financial, relationship and work problems
  • Immaturity of coping skills

The odds of developing depression if you suffer from alcoholism

Although there exists no absolute causal link between depression and alcohol dependency, study after study seems to show those who suffer from alcoholism are much more likely to suffer from depression when compared to people who do not suffer from alcoholism. This is particularly the case for people who suffer from long-term alcohol dependency. Studies confirm you are twice as likely to suffer from a depressive disorder if you suffer from alcohol dependency.

At Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we’ve found around 40% of alcoholics we treat have major depression. 50% have significant anxiety symptoms and 15% suffer from manic or elation symptom. After 4 weeks of sobriety, the incidence of depression reduces by around 10%, and anxiety reduces by around 15%. Clearly, a number of weeks of abstinence has the potential to reduce depression.

The odds of developing alcoholism if you suffer from depression

People suffering from depression may ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol in order to numb the pain caused by depression. This is because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Over time, many of these people begin to develop an addiction to alcohol. This is particularly the case for female sufferers of depression, for reasons that are largely unknown. When alcohol dependency is coupled with clinical depression, this is known as ‘dual diagnosis’.

Teens who experience clinical depression are twice as likely to suffer from alcoholism than teens who do not suffer from depression. Women are around twice as likely to suffer if they have suffered from clinical depression.

Unfortunately, self-medicating with alcohol in order to treat depression is highly ineffective. In fact, alcohol consumption is known to exacerbate the symptoms of depression, and even cause over related mental health problems such as anxiety.

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