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Alcohol and Depression Facts: Can One Be Blamed for the Other?

There’s an undeniable connection between alcohol and depression. It’s common for people to say they’re drinking to drown their sorrows or to relax. And yes, alcohol can help you relieve anxiety and make you sleepy. After all, the occasional drink when you’re stressed is one thing. But, reaching for a drink every time something comes up can be a sign of alcohol abuse. Does regular drinking lead to depression, or is someone struggling with depression on the verge of developing a drinking problem? Both can be possible, as the facts about alcohol and depression are pretty complex.

Understanding the Connection Between Alcohol and Depression

Depression is a mental illness characterized by a persistent sense of sadness. Some people are genetically prone to depression, personality also plays a role, and those with low self-esteem are more likely to develop certain levels of depression. However, there are countless reasons for depression, and its root cause varies by person. 

Is alcohol a depressant? Well, yes. Some people have genetic predispositions to make things more complicated, making them vulnerable to alcoholism and depression. The onset of one can trigger the start of the other. It’s a vicious cycle as alcohol abuse can lead to feelings of depression, just as depressive episodes can lead to increased alcohol intake.

What’s Depression?

Depression is a widespread mental health disorder that causes persistent sadness in a person, to the point it can lead to injury or other diseases. Depression affects one in every 15 people, usually starting around the late teens to mid-20s. Overall, women are at higher risk for depression than men, with one-third of women experiencing a major depressive episode at least at some point in their lifetime. 

To be diagnosed with depression, someone needs to exhibit the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

  • Sadness
  • Sudden loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Erratic sleep patterns
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Concentration problems
  • Guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts 

What’s Alcohol Use Disorder?

Excessive and uncontrollable consumption of alcohol can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcohol addiction is defined as a problem drinking that causes someone to drink uncontrollably despite attempting to quit, even after experiencing negative consequences. Some signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • Spending a lot of time drinking
  • Recurrence of drinking too much or for too long
  • Continually craving alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences
  • Cutting back on activities in favor of drinking

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Alcohol and Depression Facts: Which One Comes First?

According to major studies, individuals with mental health problems are more likely to struggle with alcohol abuse. Research also suggests that depression and binge drinking episodes are also co-dependent in women. Also, according to another study, children who suffer from depression are more likely to drink earlier in life.  

However, it’s more common for someone to start on the path of alcoholism and later develop depression. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), depression is a common side effect of alcoholism. Increasing depressive episodes often lead to more drinking, which re-starts the vicious cycle. According to a study published in Addiction, individuals dealing with alcohol use disorder or depression are at the double the risk of developing another condition.

The study found that alcohol abuse is more likely to cause major depression than the other way around, though the causality could go in either direction.

When it comes to alcohol and depression facts, it can be tricky to determine which comes first fully, as each case is different.

Someone with frequent depression episodes can turn to alcohol as self-medication, thus worsening alcohol misuse. On the other hand, someone who frequently drinks alcohol is more likely to experience bouts of depression, therefore drinking more to lift their spirits. 

Can Depression Drive You to Drink?

The short answer is yes. Almost one-third of people with major depression struggle with an alcohol problem. In most of these cases, depression comes first. Even teenagers with depression, they’re more likely to have an alcohol problem than adults. They’re also twice as likely to start drinking as those who don’t have a depression problem. 

A similar statistic can be seen in women, who are more than twice as likely to start drinking if they have depression. Overall, people with depression tend to drink more frequently and consequently have more episodes of depression. They’re also more likely to think about suicide. Not to mention, heavy alcohol consumption can make antidepressants less effective, which means even if they’re seeking help for their mental illness, medications won’t be enough. 

Can Drinking Too Much Make You Depressed?

Alcohol is a depressant, so it’s just fair that we all make this connection. If you’re depressed and drink over time, this can lead to major depression. It’s also part of the consequences of heavy drinking. When people drink too much, they’re more likely to act on impulse and make terrible decisions. Besides, alcohol abuse starts deteriorating the brain and causing it to lose control of your actions.

This can cause people to lose a job, ruin relationships, drain bank accounts, and get in legal trouble. These are all scenarios that can lead someone to a downward spiral.

Can You Blame Your Genes?

A theory believes alcoholism, depression, and other mental disorders can be due to genetic predispositions. Studies of twins have shown that the same things that lead to drinking in families also make depression more likely. Researchers believe at least one gene is involved in brain functions that increase alcohol misuse and depression risk.

Additionally, we know that social, home, and environment play a significant role. Children who were abused, raised in poverty, or parents who struggle with addiction are more likely to develop both conditions. 

Dangers of Alcohol and Depression 

Struggling with both depression and alcohol disorders is common. Alcohol dependence can worsen or onset symptoms of depression. At the same time, those struggling with depression can self-medicate with alcohol. It’s paramount to treat both together since not doing so can make the conditions worse. 

Those struggling with alcoholism and depression are at greater risk of attempting and committing suicide. Alcohol abusers are also more likely to engage in reckless behavior and act on impulse. 

Treatment for Depression and Alcohol Abuse 

Treatment for depression usually involves taking antidepressant medications. However, alcohol often reduces the efficacy of these medications. Because of this connection, it’s important to treat someone with depression and alcoholism more holistically.

Ideally, someone will start a substance abuse program alongside a mental health therapy program. Patients tend to enter a dual diagnosis treatment center to go through the various levels of care to improve their conditions. While the treatment for depression and alcohol abuse needs to be personalized, the journey probably looks like this.

Treatment Path for Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

  1. Medical detoxThe first step involves detoxing from alcohol. This process can take anywhere between 2 days to 1 week, depending on the severity of the addiction. During this process, patients are being monitored to manage withdrawal symptoms and mental health triggers.
  2. Medication-assisted treatmentTo treat the depression side of things, it’s important to include antidepressant medications and other alcohol withdrawal medications to ease withdrawals, triggers, and uncomfortable symptoms during the first step of the process.
  3. Inpatient rehabDual diagnosis cases do best in a 24/7 support environment where they can access medical and psychological support while working on their recovery. Here, medication meets Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy to treat dysfunctional thinking and behavior. CBT is also one of the most recommended psychotherapies from different organizations. 
  4. Intensive outpatient rehabAs patients move away from intensive care, they can benefit from additional structure and guidance. An intensive outpatient program allows for this structure while offering more flexibility as patients transition back to their lives. Here, the focus is on group therapy, life skills development, relapse prevention, and lifestyle changes to promote a full recovery.
  5. Aftercare programsAlso known as continuing care, patients become part of an alumni structure that promotes long-term sobriety, recovery, and support. Continuing care is critical for patients as they navigate the struggles of early sobriety, bringing added pressures and stressors that lead to relapse if not addressed. 

Finding Help with Dual Diagnosis 

Unlike other substance abuse problems, both issues need attention when someone struggles with alcoholism and depression simultaneously. Treating each one isolated might only make the situation worse. Both conditions are widespread, which makes treatment options more openly available. 

Regardless of which one comes first, anyone struggling with alcohol and depression needs to seek help. With a dual diagnosis treatment, the path towards recovery is optimistic. Through a dual diagnosis program, depression disorder and alcohol addiction are treated simultaneously to ensure one doesn’t worsen the other symptoms and finally break the cycle, similar to how we treat alcohol and drug abuse struggles. 

With dual diagnosis treatment programs at Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we can help you find the best care options for your alcohol and depression struggles. If you or someone you love struggles with these conditions, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Our team will analyze both illnesses and craft the treatment plan that best suits your needs.

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