Man suffering from depression abuses alcohol as a coping mechanism

Depression is a debilitating disorder that can leave people feeling low and hopeless. People who experience depression will often experience negative thoughts, emotions and, in some cases, suicidal ideation.

The mind and mood-altering effects of alcohol can sometimes seem like a way to cope with the symptoms of depression. Although alcohol may be used as a way to ‘manage’ depression, this strategy can lead to alcohol abuse or addiction.

Co-occurring depression and alcohol abuse are relatively common. Even though alcohol may alleviate symptoms temporarily, it can make the symptoms and outcomes of depression worse in the long run.

Depression and Alcohol Abuse Statistics

Both alcohol abuse and depression are complex conditions, and unlikely to be caused by a single factor. Depression and alcohol abuse statistics suggest that rates of depression and alcohol abuse are fairly common. Among those with depression, the average estimate of having an alcohol abuse disorder in your lifetime is 30%.

Having either depression or an alcohol addiction significantly increases the risk of developing the other. In general, It is broadly understood that alcohol abuse is more likely to cause depression than the other way around, but this can vary from person to person. Exposure to alcohol in high quantities may cause chemical changes in the brain that have been linked to depression.

Concerningly, people who suffer from both depression and alcohol abuse rather than either disorder on its own were more likely to attempt suicide. However, those with comorbid depression and alcohol abuse were more likely to receive treatment than those with alcohol abuse alone.

Types of Depression

There are several types of depression that can impact mood and level of functioning differently. Alcohol can be used to cope with symptoms of several types of depression:

  • Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder includes a depressive and manic phase, and although alcohol abuse can be prevalent in both, the motive for drinking usually differs in each phase.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: Seasonal affective disorder can occur during the winter months, and alcohol abuse can follow a similar seasonal pattern.
  • Major Depressive Disorder: Major depressive disorder is the most common type of depression, and alcohol abuse in MDD is relatively common.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder: Persistent Depressive Disorder can be difficult to treat, and people with this condition may use alcohol to manage symptoms
  • Psychotic Depression: Alcohol may be used to manage or ‘escape’ psychotic features of this depression subtype.
  • Postpartum Depression: The onset of postpartum depression can be sudden, and women may abuse alcohol before or instead of seeking treatment

Although the features of different depression subtypes present slightly differently, alcohol can be misused as a distraction or coping strategy in many cases of depression.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

There are many common signs of depression that may be familiar to most people. These include low mood, fatigue, loss of appetite and not enjoying the things you would usually enjoy. However, the symptoms may be slightly different if a person with depression is also abusing alcohol. In combination with typical depression symptoms, these signs may indicate a co-occurring problem with alcohol:

  • Poor functioning, like missing work or unable to do usual tasks
  • Risk-taking or impulsive behavior
  • Signs of dependence or alcohol-seeking behavior (like feeling anxious if they can’t have alcohol)

Of course, those suffering from both depression and alcohol abuse may be frequently intoxicated or their symptoms of depression may worsen when they drink. Although alcohol can be considered a ‘common’ coping strategy, it can be particularly dangerous for those who are experiencing depression.

How to Help Someone with Depression and Alcohol Abuse

It can be hard to know how to help someone with depression and alcohol abuse as the symptoms can make a person feel unmotivated and without hope. Depression and alcohol addiction are serious conditions, and you or a loved one does not have to face it alone.

Helping a loved one with depression or alcohol abuse can include providing support, safety and remaining judgment-free. You can also support a loved one suffering from a mental health condition by helping them to explore treatment options.

Depression and Alcohol Abuse Treatment

There are a range of treatment options for depression and alcohol abuse. As a dual diagnosis, treatment must address both conditions adequately to support recovery. For example, it may be most appropriate to address alcohol addiction and ensure a patient is sober before beginning therapy for depression.

Treatment may begin with medical detox, where medical professionals can monitor the withdrawal process as alcohol leaves the system. Alcohol addiction treatment can also take place in inpatient facilities, where patients receive live-in supervision and therapy. Treatments may also be available as an outpatient, where a patient lives at home but attends regular appointments at a treatment facility. Outpatient treatment may also be combined with treatment for depression, which can include medication or individual therapy sessions.

Deciding on the best treatment for you can feel overwhelming, but there is lots of information and support available for you. The Recovery Center Orlando can provide information and guidance on the treatment that might be the most suitable for you. If you or someone you love is suffering from depression or alcohol addiction, contact The Recovery Center Orlando today to discuss treatment options.

 

Sources:

Sullivan LE, Fiellin DA, O’Connor PG. “The prevalence and impact of alcohol problems in major depression: A systematic review.” The American journal of medicine. April 2005. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Brière, Frédéric N et al. “Comorbidity between major depression and alcohol use disorder from adolescence to adulthood.” Comprehensive psychiatry, April 1, 2015. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Boden JM, Fergusson DM. “Alcohol and Depression.” Addiction, 2011. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Dvorak, Robert D et al. “Alcohol use, depressive symptoms, and impulsivity as risk factors for suicide proneness among college students.” Journal of affective disorders, July 1, 2014. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Orlando Recovery Center aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.