Do people become depressed because they drink or are they already depressed and drink to self medicate. Research shows a strong relationship between alcoholism and depression. For people who have been alcohol dependent for a long time, alcohol can have a toxic effect on their serotonin neuro-transmitters, but that does not necessarily lead to depression or anxiety. Alcohol feeds depressive symptoms, incresing both their frequency and severity. Up to 40 per cent of people who drink heavily have symptoms that resemble a depressive illness. About 5 to 10 per cent of people with a depressive illness also have symptoms of an alcohol problem. Depressed people often turn to alcohol in the belief that it has the ability to ease their symptoms. What they fail to realise is that nothing could be further from the truth. The euphoric feelings produced by the drug are however soon replaced by sensations of drowsiness, petulance and irritability.
Young people who have a major depressive episode of two weeks or longer are twice as likely to use drugs for the first time or take their first drink than those who are not depressed. A study of teens 12 to 17 years of age revealed that 2.2 million young people face major depression each year. Of the teens studied who had never drank alcohol before, 29.1 percent who were depressed took their first drink in the past year compared with 14.5 percent who did not have a depression episode.
Of those who had never used drugs before, 16.1 percent with depression started using drugs for the first time, compared to 6.9 percent of the non-depressed teens.
Alcoholism may cause a relapse in people with depression. The depressive symptoms from alcohol are greatest when a person first stops drinking. So people recovering from alcoholism who have a history of depression should be carefully monitored during the early stages of withdrawal; the symptoms of depression are greatly reduced after three to four weeks of stopping drinking. When depression occurs with alcoholism or substance abuse, it is referred to as a “dual diagnosis.” The main danger of the dual diagnosis is that when both depression and alcoholism are untreated, each illness makes the other worse. It is also important to recognize and address both conditions, because treating one without treating the other is unlikely to be effective.
The combination of depression and alcoholism is one of the most costly disorders affecting our health care system. A recent review of 44 controlled clinical trials regarding the use of antidepressant medications for the treatment of alcoholism and depression was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It concluded that antidepressant medications have benefits, but are not a stand-alone treatment. The best treatment for alcoholism and depression is a combination of addiction treatment, medication, and psychotherapy.
If you are struggling with depression and alcoholism, especially if you have had any thoughts of harming yourself, you need to get help. “There are highly effective forms of treatment for suicide, and any individual who feels suicidal should see a mental health professional as soon as possible,” urges Shadick. Alcoholism and depression are a dangerous combination, but they are both highly treatable diseases and not moral weaknesses or character flaws.