The link between dependency on alcohol and depression is undeniable. Statistics indicate that anywhere between 30-50 percent of people with alcohol dependency also suffer from depression. Likewise, about one third of people with major depression also have a co-occurring substance use disorder. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.2 million U.S. adults experienced both mental illness and a substance use disorder in 2018.
Struggling with alcohol abuse or depression can be debilitating and destructive enough, but when they co-occur, they form a powerful, self-feeding force that makes each disorder more difficult to treat.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an alcohol problem as well as depression, both problems should be addressed and treated simultaneously to achieve the best results.
In such cases, treatment facilities that offer a co-occurring disorder, or dual diagnosis, treatment program are the best-equipped to help. At Baton Rouge Behavioral Hospital, our dual diagnosis treatment program will assist you in recovering from substance abuse, depression, and other mental health issues. But for now, let’s discuss the relationship between alcohol and depression.
Why Are Alcohol and Depression So Closely Linked?
Alcoholism and depression have a causal relationship. In other words, each tends to cause and/or intensify the other. According to a study published in Addiction, individuals dealing with alcohol use disorder or depression have twice the risk to develop the other condition.
More About Depression
The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression (also known as major depressive disorder) as a common but serious mood disorder which causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities.
There are several different types of depression, and the key to finding the right treatment is a proper diagnosis by a physician.
Some common types of depression include:
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymia): A depressed mood that lasts for at least two years.
- Postpartum Depression: Often experienced by women during pregnancy or after delivery.
- Psychotic Depression: Severe depression accompanied by some form of psychosis such as delusions or hallucinations.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: Sadness and depressed mood experienced during the winter months when natural sunlight is scarce.
- Situational Depression: Short-term, stress-related type of depression brought on by life events such as the death of a loved one, relationship problems, work or school problems and other issues.
There are as many types of depression as there are factors that can lead to depression. Life events and circumstances as well as genetics can play a part.
Some common causes that increase the chances of developing depression include:
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Death or loss of a family member or friend
- Personal problems, such as the break-up of a relationship, the loss of a job, or difficulties with finances
- Health issues such as illnesses and injuries, especially those that are serious or life-altering
- Substance abuse
Why Do People with Depression Turn to Alcohol?
For people who have suffered trauma or abuse, alcohol is often used to escape from reality and painful memories. Some will drink alcohol to “relax and unwind” from a stressful day. A person with depression who experiences feelings of sadness, anxiety, irritability and insomnia may use alcohol to self-medicate.
Self-medication may seem like an easy cure to the symptoms of depression. While binge drinking large amounts of alcohol and persistent alcohol use may provide temporary relief, the long-term effects of alcohol misuse will eventually intensify and worsen the symptoms of depression.
Likewise, the abuse of alcohol brings on its own set of consequences that can cause and worsen depression, including the loss of jobs, damaged family relationships, financial difficulties, and physical health problems.
The Dangers of Self-Medicating with Alcohol
Self-medicating depression with alcohol can result in harmful consequences. From altering your brain chemistry long term to increasing the risk of harmful behavior and suicide, the dangers are serious and real.
Alcohol is a depressant, and using it to medicate depression is like pouring gas on a fire. To paraphrase part of “There Is a Solution,” a text from Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as The Big Book), this is like a man with a headache beating himself on the head with a hammer so he can’t feel the ache.
Some of the consequences and dangers of self-medicating depression with alcohol include:
- Altering brain chemistry: Heavy drinking alters the brain’s neurotransmitters and disrupts its balance of serotonin and dopamine. When serotonin and dopamine levels are altered by alcohol, your mood can be negatively affected, and your brain’s reward system becomes wired differently.
- Mitigating the effectiveness of anti-depression meds: For people already being treated for depression with antidepressant medication, the use of alcohol diminishes the effectiveness of the meds. Most depression medications are designed to restore healthy levels of serotonin and dopamine. The brain-altering effects of alcohol make this nearly impossible.
- Increased risk of physical injury and health problems: Being intoxicated can easily lead to injuries caused by falls, accidents, and other mishaps. Serious injuries and their after-effects can intensify feelings of depression, sadness, and hopelessness. In addition, there are well-documented health problems associated with alcohol misuse, including liver damage, heart disease, digestive problems, cognitive dysfunction, and even cancer.
- Increased risk of suicide: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 22 percent of suicide deaths in the United States involved blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of 0.08 (the legal limit for driving) or higher. In addition, acute alcohol intoxication is present in about 30-40 percent of all suicide attempts.
- Isolation and loneliness: Chronic alcohol use often results in increased isolation and loneliness. This can amplify feelings of sadness and depression. Increased alcohol use can cause individuals to spend less time with family and friends and to stop participating in activities or hobbies that used to bring joy.
Why It’s Important to Treat Addiction and Depression Together
Treating alcoholism and addiction without treating the accompanying mental illness increases the chances of a relapse. While sobriety is the first step toward a healthier future, it also exposes raw and difficult emotions.
The symptoms of depression don’t simply fade away once an individual gets sober. A recovering addict or alcoholic may start using again to combat uncomfortable new feelings as well as old, familiar feelings of sadness.
Treatment for co-occurring addiction and depression gives people the necessary tools, resources, and medications to manage their sobriety and mental health and to prevent relapse.
The Path Toward Wellness
If you or a loved one struggle with managing alcohol and depression, it may seem like the cards are stacked against you. Don’t give up. There is hope. Sobriety is possible, and mental illness can be effectively treated and managed.
The dual diagnosis treatment program at Baton Rouge Behavioral Hospital provides comprehensive treatment for alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental health issues. We’ve helped thousands of people just like you find sobriety, manage their depression, and re-discover the joy of living. If you’d like to begin your recovery, you can reach our helpful admissions staff at (225) 300-8470 or you can fill out our confidential contact form.