Alcohol Use and Abuse

There's a long and strong relationship between alcohol and depression, and the relationship is not a good one. Whether you drink to relieve the symptoms of depression or alcohol triggers symptoms of depression, it's a downer.

Alcohol impairs judgment. When you are under the influence, you may do things and say things that you never would when sober. That's why drinking and driving make such a deadly combination. You may find yourself taking foolish chances and risking your own safety, as well as the safety of others. Some people become more aggressive, and some lose their inhibitions. Severe depression, thoughts of suicide, and alcohol make a deadly cocktail. Before you have a chance to sober up, it may be too late.

The Genetic Factor

Researchers are investigating whether the predisposition to either alcoholism or depression is inherited or something metabolic that causes certain individuals to have either a high tolerance for alcohol or extreme vulnerability to alcohol's effects. There may be something heritable that causes alcohol to affect one person's brain chemistry differently from someone else's.

Researchers do know that if depression or alcoholism exists in your family tree, you've got a greater chance of developing either or both than does someone who doesn't have this risk factor. According to, 30 to 50 percent of alcoholics, at any given time, are also suffering from major depression.

Association is not causation, but the link between alcohol and depression is too strong to be ignored. If you have a family history of either depression or alcoholism, be aware of your risk factors for developing either or both conditions and be watchful for symptoms that may indicate you are developing either condition — or both.


When two conditions or diseases occur at the same time in the same individual, they are said to be comorbid. The word derives from the Latin co-, meaning together, and morbus, meaning diseased.

Whichever comes first, alcoholism or depression, they're a deadly combination, and you can be certain that other problems will follow on their heels. While depression wreaks havoc with your sense of well-being, alcohol wreaks havoc with your body. Liver problems, such as cirrhosis and hepatitis, are common in alcoholics.

In addition, there is risk of stomach ulcers, anemia, irregular heartbeat, and impotence. In this case, you've got depression, plus alcohol dependency, plus another condition brought on by the alcohol. Not good.


Using alcohol to cope with a medical condition is referred to as self-medicating, and bipolar disorder and alcohol dependency often occur in tandem. Alcohol is readily available, it's cheap, and it's legal. Drinking to ease the symptoms of depression or to help you fall asleep may seem logical, but your sleep will not be restful, and you haven't treated the cause of your depression. After a while, your tolerance to alcohol will increase, and you'll need more and more alcohol to achieve the same numbing effect. That's not a good prescription for a cure.


When doctors use the term “dual diagnosis,” they are referring to a mental health condition and a substance abuse problem occurring together.

Medication and Therapy Options

Antidepressants and psychotherapy cost money. Even if you have good insurance coverage, there are usually a deductible and co-pays to meet. If your job status is on shaky ground, or if you have lost your job because of alcohol dependency, your finances aren't going to be in good shape for very long. In addition, if you have a family to support, marital problems are added to your laundry list of troubles. There will never be a better time to tackle the source of the problem than right now.

Antidepressants are powerful drugs — and so is alcohol. If you read the warning stickers attached to your prescription container, you will probably see some specific cautions against consuming alcohol and driving. What these warnings don't tell you is why these activities are potentially dangerous.

Some antidepressants can produce a sedating effect, and some antidepressants are affected by alcohol. Combining these antidepressants with alcohol may over-sedate you to the point of endangering your life. And then there's your liver.

The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) explains that some antidepressants are broken down in the liver. Since alcohol abuse can damage your liver, it won't be operating optimally, and you'll have higher concentrations of the antidepressants in your body than your prescribed dose. This puts you at increased risk for side effects.

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

There is no medical test to determine if your consumption of alcohol is excessive. The only way to determine this is to take an honest look at your drinking patterns and assess your alcohol consumption habits. There are many assessments available, but they all cover the same territory. Here is one list. You should probably consider getting help if any of the following are true for you:

  • You use alcohol to boost your confidence.

  • You drink alone.

  • You resent people commenting on your drinking.

  • Your drinking has begun to affect your personal relationships or your job.

  • Hangovers are now a regular part of your mornings.

  • You have no control over how much you drink.

  • You have a drink before going to a social function where alcohol will be served.

  • You will neglect important matters in order to have a drink.

  • You've built up a tolerance, so you must drink more to feel good.

  • You've begun drinking in the morning to stop feeling anxious and shaky.

If you've answered yes to any of these statements, it's time to take control of your drinking and your life. In doing so, you'll also be taking steps to help deal with depression.

Teens, Alcohol, and Depression

Depression can set the stage for alcohol abuse among teens. The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that young people who have a major depressive episode of two weeks or longer are twice as likely to take their first drink as those who are not depressed. Drinking is not legal for teens in any case, but if you find that your child has begun using alcohol, it's time to take a look at the bigger picture. Alcohol abuse is a symptom you can recognize.

Getting Help

If you've decided that it's time to help your depression by treating your alcohol dependency, good for you. This is a big step, but it's one that will get you back on the road to feeling better and back in control of your life. When depression and alcoholism exist together, your doctor will usually treat the alcoholism first. Often, when the alcoholism is treated, the symptoms of depression subside.

Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you over the initial detox period. Remember, though, that ultimately your success is up to you. Alcohol dependency, like depression, cannot be cured. It can, like depression, be treated and managed successfully, and organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are living proof of that success. You'll find their number in your local telephone directory and meetings are advertised in local papers.

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