Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: August 22, 2021

It’s common for people to use alcohol to get through difficult times. It seems like a quick way to relieve anxiety, lessen feelings of depression, and take the edge off. When someone goes through a breakup or loss of a job, having a few drinks can help blunt the pain.

Reaching for an occasional drink when looking for relief isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s different when alcohol accompanies every challenge or problem that comes up. If alcohol is your way of coping with struggles or sadness, this might be the sign of a bigger problem.

There is also a connection between alcohol and depression. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism is a sign of disordered drinking. Are people with depression more likely to drink? Or do people with a drinking problem develop depression over time?

There is a complicated relationship between alcohol and depression. Are you curious about how the two conditions interact with each other? Continue reading to learn more about the connections between depression and alcohol abuse.

Alcohol and Depression

Alcohol and Depression

Everyone experiences challenges in life from time to time. Breakups, job loss, unexpected illness; life presents difficulties to everyone. These situations come out of nowhere and leave you feeling overwhelmed and upset.

Still, many people can acknowledge the experience, work through it, and move forward. They aren’t affected by what took place for long before continuing with their life. Their sadness is temporary but doesn’t plague them for weeks or months.

Depression is not the same thing as normal sadness. It’s a pervasive condition that affects a person’s outlook on themselves and the world around them. People with depression can’t “get over it.” The sense of hopelessness touches on every aspect of their life.

People with both depression and a drinking problem are in a more difficult position. The two conditions feed into and build off of one another creating a more intense condition as time goes on. Some individuals start drinking to relieve their depression. Others develop depression as a result of their drinking. What is the difference between the two?

Do Depressed Individuals Drink More?

Depression is a serious illness that impacts the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. It affects the way they view people around them and the world at large. They’re plagued by feelings of sadness that decrease their interest in things they used to enjoy. It can also limit their ability to function at home, work, or in school.

Research also shows about one-third of people with depression also have an alcohol problem. Children and teenagers who show signs of depression are more likely to develop alcohol problems. Women with a history of depression are also twice as likely to turn to heavy drinking for relief.

Why are there such high rates of alcohol use among individuals with depression? It’s the same reason people drink after some upsetting news: they’re looking for relief. And unlike bad news, depression lasts much longer than a few days.

At first, alcohol seems to provide the same relaxing, anxiety-reducing effects. It softens the sharp edges of the world and makes symptoms easier to manage. It might even allow some people to socialize instead of isolating themselves.

In reality, alcohol only makes symptoms of depression worse. Heavy drinking doesn’t relieve depression. It causes more frequent and severe depressive episodes over time instead. It reduces the effectiveness of antidepressants and increases the likelihood of suicidal ideation.

Drinking Lead to Depression

Does Drinking Lead to Depression?

Some people with a drinking problem start because they enjoy the effects of alcohol. They aren’t trying to escape the symptoms of a mental illness or relieve the stresses of a difficult life event. They’re drinking to have a good time.

At first, their drinking is enjoyable. As it becomes more frequent, though, they start feeling sad or down more often. Heavy drinking affects brain chemistry and impacts the way the brain functions. Someone who drinks heavily for a long time might develop depression as a result of their alcohol use.

Other times people make decisions while drinking that leave a lasting impact. For example, some lose their job, spend all their money, wreck a vehicle, or lose a relationship. These serious consequences could trigger a depressive episode and kick off a cycle of alcohol and depression.

Since they’re dependent on drinking, quitting drinking doesn’t cross their mind as an option. This only makes their depressive episode worse and may cause more episodes in the future as well. If they don’t seek help for their drinking or depression, they put themselves at risk of advancing both conditions.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders, is the presence of both mental illness and alcohol use disorder. People who struggle with depression and alcohol abuse qualify as dual diagnosis cases. It doesn’t matter whether their depression or their drinking came first.

Individuals with dual diagnosis have a unique set of circumstances to work through. For example, 30 to 40 percent of people with an alcohol problem also struggle with depression. At first, they may seek treatment for their alcohol abuse. It’s only once they’re at the facility that they discover the presence of depression.

Removing alcohol from their system is the first step. Once sober, they still need to work through their symptoms of depression. Effective treatment requires the aid of a facility that understands the relationship between the two.

Treating Individuals with Dual Diagnosis

People with dual diagnoses benefit most from a specialized approach to treatment. They need a facility that understands the balance between alcohol abuse and mental illness.

Do you struggle with alcohol and depression? Have you found it difficult to control, cut back on, or quit drinking entirely? Even if you manage to quit, maybe you have a hard time not turning back to drinking during depressive episodes.

Peace Valley Recovery understands the challenges of trying to recover alone. It’s not easy to manage drinking and depression on your own. We’re here to help you if you’re ready to stop. Reach out to us today at (215) 780-1953 to let us know how we can support you as you start on your path to recovery.

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