A Tangled Web: Does Alcoholism Cause Depression or Does Depression Cause Alcoholism?

A Tangled Web: Does Alcoholism Cause Depression or Does Depression Cause Alcoholism?

A Tangled Web: Does Alcoholism Cause Depression or Does Depression Cause Alcoholism?

A Tangled Web: Does Alcoholism Cause Depression or Does Depression Cause Alcoholism?From feelings of hopelessness to the weariness of insomnia, depression touches every aspect of how you live your life.  It has a negative impact on your close relationships, your career, and your emotional well-being. However, adding alcohol abuse to depression can make your life significantly more difficult.  The first step in reclaiming your health is to gain a better understanding of depression and alcohol abuse, and how addiction treatment will help.

Numerous studies have shown that depression and alcoholism often co-occur. For instance, one study found that 30% of people with a mood disorder like depression also lived with alcohol dependence [1]. Another study of elderly patients receiving psychiatric care, largely for depression, found that 37% met the criteria for a substance abuse disorder. Of those with the dual diagnosis, 71% abused alcohol while the remaining abused both alcohol and other substances [2].

The Depression/Alcohol Spiral

Does alcoholism cause depression or does the depression cause alcoholism? The answer depends on the patient. Researchers believe some people may be vulnerable to both because of brain abnormalities affecting the neurotransmitter dopamine. Evidence suggests that the dopamine system is more impaired in people who have both conditions than in those with just one of the disorders [3].

A person living with depression may turn to alcohol to cope with feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. Drinking helps some individuals feel calmer, happier, or more energetic. The alcohol is used as a form of self-medication. However, despite the initial feel-good effects it may bring, alcohol is actually a depressant. Its effects on the central nervous system make depression symptoms worse. The worsening symptoms often lead people with depression to drink even more.  This creates a vicious cycle that’s very difficult to break without the help of professional addiction treatment.

In others, alcohol use may trigger symptoms of depression. One study, which analyzed participants periodically over 25 years, found that alcohol abuse or dependence was linked to an increase in the risk for major depression [4]. Furthermore, a 30-year study of about 400 men found that, in those with alcohol problems, nearly 33% suffered episodes of major depression only when they were drinking heavily [5].

Depression/Alcoholism Suicide Link

The combination of these two mental health disorders is a dangerous one that can end in suicide.  Separately, both depression and alcoholism increase a person’s risk of suicide.  When they’re combined, depression and alcohol abuse create an even greater risk that a person will take his or her own life, making addiction treatment even more crucial

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Only a mental health professional can properly diagnose co-occurring depression and alcoholism. If you know or suspect that you (or someone you love) are struggling with these two disorders, it’s critical to have an evaluation as soon as possible.

Since alcohol plays such a significant role in the symptoms of clinical depression, the first priority is often to treat the substance addiction. The initial often involves detoxification. Detox should be done only under medical supervision, as the withdrawal effects of alcohol can be quite serious – and even life-threatening in some cases. Health specialists will monitor your medical status and, when necessary, provide relief for discomfort as well as assistance with more serious

After detoxification, you’ll begin the real work of addiction treatment. Most often this starts with psychotherapy to address the substance abuse. Therapy might involve one-on-one counseling, group therapy, or a combination of the two. These sessions will teach you how to live without the crutch of addiction.

The addiction team will also likely recommend additional support in the form of a 12-step or similar recovery program. Other treatments for alcoholism may include occupational therapy or training in interpersonal communication, decision-making, or problem-solving skills.

Don’t underestimate the importance of treating alcoholism. If you are abusing alcohol, it will be virtually impossible to effectively treat symptoms of depression.  In fact, treating the substance abuse may have a noticeable and direct impact on those symptoms. In the 30-year study of men with alcohol-induced depression, their symptoms often diminished with sobriety. That doesn’t mean you will never need help for depression.  It does mean that abstinence may go a long way toward relieving your symptoms.

Along with addiction treatment, treatment for depression is often needed to effectively manage the dual diagnosis. Cognitive behavioral therapy – one of the most effective types of therapy for depression – addresses the negative thoughts and emotions that contribute to your symptoms. With the help of a therapist, you will learn to identify negative and irrational thoughts, as well as distorted beliefs.  Once identified, you can start changing these destructive thought patterns.  In addition, therapy can also help you learn to break down seemingly overwhelming problems into much more manageable parts.

In some cases, a psychiatrist may also prescribe antidepressants to help balance brain chemicals that are believed to play a role in depression.  These medications may help improve your mood.  It is never a good idea to use antidepressants as the primary treatment for depression.  While they may help alleviate symptoms, they don’t address the underlying problem.  Additionally, like all medications, they carry the risk of side effects and may not be the right choice for everyone. You should work closely with your treatment providers to determine if antidepressants are a necessary component of your treatment.

Effective Treatment Takes Time

Treating the combination of alcoholism and depression will take time.  Your alcohol treatment may require a stay at an inpatient facility.  In some cases, severe depression symptoms might require hospitalization as well.  Therapy can be very effective, but it may take weeks or even months to truly feel its effects. Antidepressants don’t provide quick relief either.  It often takes at least a few weeks to notice their beneficial effects – if they work at all.  Not every medication will work in every patient, which means it may take several attempts to find the right one for you. The important thing to remember is that you can get better if you work closely with your providers and stick to the treatment plan.

The more you educate yourself about a dual diagnosis of alcoholism and depression, the better equipped you will be to help yourself or a loved one. An experienced mental health team or addiction treatment facility will help get you on the road to recovery – back on track to a life that’s fulfilling both physically and emotionally.

Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.

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