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Alcoholism and Depression: Understanding the Co-Occurrence, Risks, and Treatment Options

Written by Rob Alston

& Medically Reviewed by Paula Holmes, LCSW

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Medically Reviewed by Paula Holmes, LCSW

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Updated 07/13/2021

Alcoholism and depression are two conditions that frequently co-occur and exacerbate one another.

Alcohol addiction and depression frequently go hand in hand. The negative effects of alcohol and depression exacerbate one another and make it even more difficult to quit. Understanding the connection between alcoholism and depression and learning about how to access help is a good first step in getting ready for recovery.

How Alcoholism Can Cause Depression

The cycle of depression and alcohol use disorder can be difficult to break. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows the systems of the body down. For those experiencing depression, the appealing aspect of alcohol lies in its ability to help distract from emotional pain by numbing or disconnecting.

While the temporary results can seem like a benefit, the long term risks of treating depression with alcohol use create a cyclical effect that makes both conditions worse. The use of alcohol with depression reinforces avoidance behaviors rather than fostering true healing and recovery from both conditions.

Symptoms of Alcohol-Induced Depression

There are common depression and alcoholism symptoms that can act as warning signs. The effects of alcohol use disorder can bring about depression symptoms such as avoidance of others, challenges with job retention, and mood swings. Often, attempts to hide alcohol use can elicit feelings of isolation and withdrawal from others. These behaviors deepen depressive symptoms and reinforce the cycle.

How Depression Can Cause Alcoholism

Depression and alcohol abuse can be a dangerous combination. When a depressed person reaches for alcohol as a solution, it only serves to mask the feelings temporarily. The long term implications of alcohol and depression are detrimental. Nearly one-third of clinically depressed people have co-occurring alcohol use disorder.

Often, depression is a challenge before alcohol use begins and ends up becoming an ill-fated “solution” used to manage symptoms. When one uses alcohol in response to depressive symptoms, there is a greater likelihood of a co-occurring problem down the road.

Risks of Untreated Depression and Alcoholism

When co-occurring depression and alcoholism remain untreated, it increases the risk of harm to the individual on many fronts. Depression and alcoholism are conditions of the mind and body, and the impact of this diagnostic combo can be severe.

  • Compromised immune system. Both conditions reduce immune functioning, which increases the likelihood of multiple health problems including digestive issues, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cardiovascular illness.
  • Relationship problems. Even as separate conditions, alcoholism, and depression influence relationships with family and friends. When both issues are present at once, relationships are seriously impaired and the person struggling with these conditions becomes increasingly isolated. The loss of these crucial social supports worsens feelings of loneliness which perpetuates the cycle of depression and alcohol use.
  • Risk of suicide. People who become severely depressed and whose decision making is compromised by alcoholism are at greater risk of suicide. 22% of US suicide deaths involve alcohol.

Alcohol and Antidepressants

It may seem like a good solution to co-occurring depression and alcoholism would be the use of an antidepressant. Normally, antidepressants are a good way to manage the symptoms of the disorder, but in people with depression and alcoholism, it can cause additional risks.

Mixing alcohol and antidepressants brings its own set of dangers. The possible side effects of antidepressants and alcohol can vary in severity. With some medications, alcohol may increase feelings of depression and anxiety, cause excessive sleepiness, and may impair decision making.

MAOI antidepressants with alcohol can cause a spike in blood pressure and may cause dangerous health effects. It is important, to be honest with your health professional and pharmacist about your alcohol consumption prior to starting an antidepressant to avoid further health risks and complications.

Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

The treatment of alcoholism and depression comorbidity is vital for those who struggle with both conditions. The cyclical nature of alcohol use and depression creates a complex emotional dependence beyond the usual effects. Common treatments for co-occurring disorders are cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy.

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Both treatment modalities, as well as motivational interviewing, explore the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that influence the life of someone struggling with addiction. Treatment also helps people explore healthy coping strategies and ways to manage the difficult emotions that can sometimes drive addiction.

Are you struggling with depression and alcoholism? You don’t have to face it alone. Alcoholism and depression help is available. The experienced professionals at The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health offer dual diagnosis alcohol and depression treatment options that will help you in your journey toward recovery. There is no cookie-cutter approach to treatment, and the professionals at The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health want to help you find the care you need to get well. Reach out today and explore the treatment options available to you and start your recovery journey.

View Sources “The Truth About Alcohol: What Is Alcohol?” Accessed September 7, 2019. “Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking.” Accessed September 13, 2019. “Substance Use and Suicide: A Nexus Requiring a Public Health Approach.”2016. Accessed September 13, 2019.