Alcoholism and Depression
Alcoholism and Depression. Researchers have known for quite some time that alcoholism and depression tend to
occur together and that both disorders may run in families.
In fact, previous studies of adopted siblings and twins have suggested that there are genes in common
underlying depression and alcoholism and that these disorders seem to take place in families.
Indeed, a family history of either alcoholism or depression puts an individual at increased risk for
developing either illness.
Alcoholism and Depression Treatment. What is important when a person is an alcoholic and is
also depressed is this: both depression and alcoholism need to be treated. In fact, if a person is depressed AND
alcohol dependent, getting professional treatment for only one of the medical conditions without also getting
treatment for the other will usually prove to be unsuccessful and ineffective.
Some Key Facts About Alcoholism and Depression
The following list represents some important information that researchers have discovered about alcoholism and
- When individuals abuse alcohol and/or drugs, depression can develop.
- Alcoholism and depression are frequently associated, leading to a high potential for alcohol-antidepressant
- Even though research has not shown that depression actually causes alcoholism, the two disorders are
commonly seen in the same patients at the same time.
- The use of alcohol and drugs can complicate the diagnosis and treatment of depression.
- Depressed people often turn to alcohol in the belief that it has the ability to ease their symptoms. Not
all heavy or long time drinkers, however, will become depressed.
- Most people with depression do not seek treatment, although the great majority of individuals, even those
whose depression is extremely severe, can be helped with professional treatment.
- Without treatment, a major depressive episode can last up to 6 to 12 months or longer.
- Frequently, the reasons for depression are not clear. That is, there may not be just one "cause," but a
variety of contributing factors that accumulate over time and make people feel defeated, helpless, demoralized,
hopeless, and depressed.
- One of the signs of an alcoholic is extreme mood swings, including depression. Conversely, one of the signs
that a person is depressed is that he or she is involved in alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mental state characterized by a despondent lack of activity and a pessimistic feeling of
inadequacy. When an individual is depressed, he or she usually feels exhausted, worthless, hopeless, and
It is important to emphasize the fact that while "normal" depression is related to any downturn in mood that
might be relatively transitory and even triggered by something trivial, "clinical depression," on the other hand,
is associated with symptoms that last two weeks or more and are so serious that they interfere with daily
functioning and living.
Symptoms of Alcoholism and Depression
The Relationship Between Alcoholism and Depression. Mental heath researchers have discovered
the fact that some of the dynamics that are involved in producing the symptoms of reduced appetite, poor sleep, low
mood, and anxiety that are characteristic of depression are also affected by alcohol.
The following represents some of the major facts about the symptoms of alcoholism and depression:
- Up to 40 per cent of individuals who drink excessively have symptoms that resemble depression.
- Among alcoholics entering treatment, approximately two-thirds of them have symptoms that resemble anxiety
- Roughly 5 to 10 per cent of individuals with depression also have symptoms of alcohol abuse or
- The strongest association between alcoholism and severe anxiety takes place in the context of alcohol
- If a drinker has never experienced alcohol problems, he or she will tend to not have symptoms of
- When depressive symptoms are secondary to alcoholism, they are likely to disappear within a few days or
weeks of abstinence, as the alcohol withdrawal symptoms lessen.
- Due to the fact that symptoms of depression associated with alcohol are greatest when an individual first
stops drinking, recovering alcoholics with a history of depression should be carefully monitored during the
early stages of withdrawal.
- The symptoms of depression in alcoholics are greatly reduced after three to four weeks of sobriety.
- Since symptoms of depression are likely to develop during the course of alcoholism, some patients with mood
disorders may increase their drinking when undergoing a mood change, fulfilling criteria for secondary
Depression and the Elderly
Some individuals have the erroneous belief that it is normal for the elderly to feel depressed. Research,
however, demonstrates that individuals who experience alcohol problems both before and after age 60 have the
highest rates of depression. In fact, seniors who suffer from depression and alcoholism are at an increased risk of
Due to the fact that depression and alcohol abuse are associated with suicide, and given the high rate of
suicide in older individuals, substance abuse treatment professionals need to be sensitive to the presence of
suicidal ideation in older patients.
In a word, clinicians must raise their awareness about depression and alcoholism in older adults and these
professionals should not confuse these disorders with "normal aging."
Alcoholism and Depression and Suicide
Suicide, Alcoholism and Depression. Alcohol impairs judgment, which to a great extent explains
its association with suicide. Furthermore, since alcohol abuse and alcoholism can intensify depression and increase
impulsiveness, an individual suffering from major depression and who abuses alcohol has a much higher risk of
attempting and succeeding at taking his or her own life.
Because of the risk of suicide, it is critical that people suffering from depression and alcoholism or alcohol
abuse receive immediate medical attention.
Treatment for Depression and Alcoholism
Unfortunately, many individuals, including health professionals, tend to view alcoholism and depression as
separate problems when in fact, they are related to one another.
As a result, the positive correlation between alcohol abuse or alcoholism and depression argues strongly for a
comprehensive approach to treatment.
This means not only paying attention to the problem of alcohol, but also taking into account the treatment of
depression - which can require psychotherapy and/or anti-depressant medications.
It is asserted that this type of extensive treatment approach will help ensure a more effective and productive
outcome for the patient.
There is general agreement in the psychiatric community that alcoholic individuals are at increased risk for
depression and bipolar illness and depressed individuals are at increased risk for alcoholism and alcohol
According to some clinicians and researchers, therefore, the clinical assessment of current and past alcohol use
and alcohol-related disorders should be considered a routine part of all psychiatric or medical evaluations.
In addition, all depressed patients should be frequently asked about their alcohol and drug use throughout the
course of their treatment and advised to refrain from alcohol and drug abuse.
Since relapse prevention is one of the most critical tasks in the management of depressed patients with a past
history of alcoholism, it is important to maximize the chance of long-term sobriety in patients with
In short, when alcohol abuse or alcoholism occurs with depression, both the substance abuse and the mood
disorder demand treatment.
Famous People Who Had Depression
Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the most noted person to successfully cope with depression. Another famous person,
Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, successfully managed his depression he referred to as his "black
Leaders in other fields like film (Jim Carrey and Woody Allen), television (Dick Cavett and Mike Wallace),
sports (Terry Bradshaw) and any number of educators, scientists, doctors, nurses, and lawyers have dealt with
depression and moved forward to live productive and successful lives.
These "success stories" should remind others who suffer from depression that this illness need not be a
crippling blow to the ways in which they live their lives.
Conclusion: Alcoholism and Depression
Depression and Alcoholism. Alcoholism and depression have a high comorbidity. Stated more
precisely, alcoholism and depression occur in the same people at a rate higher than they would occur if both
disorders were not related.
The "link" can psychological, genetic, social, biological, or most likely a combination of these and other
Patients who are alcoholic and who also suffer from depression deserve the same kind of comprehensive care as a
cancer patient with pneumonia, or a diabetic patient with glaucoma.
Suicide, Alcoholism and Depression. Suicide, alcoholism, and depression are all highly
correlated with one another. Because of the risk of suicide, it is critical that people suffering from alcoholism
and depression receive immediate medical attention.
Although it doesn't happen in every instance of alcoholism, one of the signs of an alcoholic is depression. In a
similar way, one of the signs that an individual is depressed is that he or she is involved in alcoholism or
The bottom line is this: when alcoholism or alcohol abuse occurs with depression, both the "drinking problem"
and the mood disorder require quality treatment.
If people can be made aware of the strong association between alcoholism and depression AND made aware of some
great people in history who battled through depression and lived productive lives, some of them may be more able to
deal with depression without engaging in alcohol abuse or alcoholism.