Why is Depression So Common with Alcohol Abuse?

Many people who abuse alcohol or suffer from alcohol addiction are also battling depression. The prevalence rates for major depressive disorder in people with alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are 11.3% and 27.9%, respectively. Why is depression so common with alcohol abuse and addiction? Does alcohol abuse cause depression, or does depression lead to alcohol abuse?

People who suffer from alcohol addiction and depression can receive effective treatment for both of these illnesses at an alcohol rehab center. Here’s more about the link between depression and alcohol abuse, and where to find treatment for both conditions.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

In 2017, major depression affected an estimated 17.3 million adults in the U.S., which represents 7.1% of the U.S. adult population. Depression can interfere with one’s ability to carry out daily and major life activities, and increase the risk for several serious health problems including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Depression affects each person differently and produces a wide range of symptoms. Some people may only experience a few symptoms, while others may experience many.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness and emptiness.
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of guilt and/or worthlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Pessimism
  • Reduced energy
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Changes in weight and/or appetite
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in long-held hobbies and activities
  • Problems with decision making, memory, and concentration
  • Sleep problems such as insomnia, oversleeping or waking up too early
  • Physical aches and pains, digestive upset, and abdominal cramps
  • Thoughts of suicide and death, or suicide attempts

What Causes Depression?

The exact cause of depression is unknown, but researchers say depression may be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Here are specific factors thought to contribute to depression:

  • A family history of depression. People who have blood relatives with depression may be at higher risk for this mental illness.
  • Major life changes, even if planned. Retirement, divorce, and moving to a new home are examples of major life changes that may cause depression.
  • Traumatic or stressful events. Death of a spouse, financial hardship, physical or sexual abuse, and incarceration are examples of traumatic and/or stressful events that may cause depression.
  • Poor nutrition and an unhealthy diet. Healthy foods like fruits and vegetables have nutrients that help regulate brain chemistry to naturally battle mood disorders and depression, while unhealthy diets high in sugar and fried foods lack as many nutrients. Evidence suggests that people who eat poorly are at a 60% higher risk for depression than their healthier-eating counterparts.
  • Medical problems. People who suffer from serious medical conditions such as cancer, stroke, and chronic pain are often depressed due to coping with their conditions. At the same time, certain medical conditions cause changes in the brain that trigger depression, such as hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Hormone imbalances. Many hormones and brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) play major roles in regulating moods, such as serotonin, estrogen, cortisol, insulin, and thyroid hormones. Imbalances in certain hormones or neurotransmitters can increase the risk of depression.
  • Drug and/or alcohol use. People who use drugs and alcohol are at higher risk for depression. Depression is also a common drug and alcohol withdrawal symptom.

How Can Alcohol Abuse Cause Depression?

Over time with regular and repeated use, alcohol changes the brain’s structure, function, and chemical balance, which could lead to depression and other mood disorders. Serotonin, dopamine, and GABA are some neurotransmitters affected by alcohol abuse and addiction. When people drink high amounts of alcohol over periods of days and weeks, the brain adapts to the presence of alcohol and comes to rely on this substance for good mood and feelings of pleasure and euphoria. When a person abruptly stops drinking alcohol after becoming physically dependent, depression kicks in as a result of the brain trying to adjust to its absence. 

Depression can also lead to alcohol addiction, though researchers suggest this is less common than alcohol addiction leading to depression. Some people who suffer depression may drink in an effort to escape or “cure” their symptoms. This is known as self-medicating and does little to treat depression in the long run. Those who use alcohol to self-medicate for depression face the risk of becoming dependent or addicted to alcohol, and will eventually experience worsened depression symptoms.

People who are diagnosed with alcohol addiction and depression are known to have a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. Both conditions must be treated at the same time, or else the condition left untreated may trigger the other later on. Many drug and alcohol rehab centers offer therapy for co-occurring disorders.

How Common are Co-Occurring Disorders?

About 50% of people who suffer from depression also suffer from a substance use disorder, and vice versa. Alcohol isn’t the only substance that can cause long-term changes in the brain’s structure and function. Other drugs that may increase the risk for depression when abused or used regularly and repeatedly include benzodiazepines, stimulants like cocaine, methamphetamine, and ADHD medications, and opioids like heroin and painkillers. All these substances interact with brain receptors and neurotransmitters in ways that can lead to depression with abuse or long-term use.

How is Alcohol Dependence Treated at Alcohol Rehab?

People who suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence can reduce their risk for depression by getting help at an alcohol rehab center that offers alcohol detox. Alcohol detox manages the physical symptoms of withdrawal to help people safely stop using alcohol without the risk of serious complications. Quitting alcohol abruptly after becoming dependent can increase the risk for seizures, heart palpitations, dehydration, and malnutrition.

Alcohol detox usually takes place in a residential or hospital-like setting where patients can be monitored 24-7 by experienced nurses and doctors. This allows medical staff to intervene if a patient shows signs of distress while going through the withdrawal process. Many times, medications are used in alcohol detox to reduce pain and discomfort associated with common alcohol withdrawal symptoms. After patients overcome physical dependence, they can start receiving therapy to treat depression and other mental health disorders.

How are Co-Occurring Disorders Treated at Alcohol Rehab?

Co-occurring disorders can be effectively treated in alcohol rehab programs using several behavioral therapies. Many rehab centers will develop customized treatment programs for each patient based on factors such as age, the severity of the addiction, and mental illness. Medications may be used to treat both conditions.

Behavioral therapies shown effective at treating co-occurring disorders include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps patients change harmful behaviors and beliefs surrounding alcohol use and their mental illness
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which aims to reduce self-harm behaviors such as alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts, urges, or attempts
  • Contingency management, which rewards vouchers and/or prizes to patients who practice healthy behaviors such as staying abstinent from drugs and alcohol
  • Assertive community treatment, which emphasizes community outreach
  • Therapeutic communities, which are long-term residential treatment programs that focus on resocializing those recovering from long-term or severe alcohol addiction and/or mental illness

Recovering from Alcohol Addiction at Summer House

Summer House Detox Centers offers alcohol detox in Florida to give people the option of recovering from alcohol dependence in a sunny, relaxing, luxurious setting. Our alcohol detox treatments involve the use of medications that relieve your symptoms as you safely withdraw from alcohol. We offer 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings on the premises and can refer you or your loved one to an alcohol rehab center that offers therapy for co-occurring disorders and alcohol addiction.

Contact Summer House today at 800-719-1090 to learn more about our available alcohol detox programs.



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