Alcohol abuse and depression often go together and exist in a complicated relationship. In some cases, alcoholism causes depression or worsens the symptoms of an existing condition. For others, the symptoms of depression lead to drinking as a way to cope and self-medicate. Experts think there may even be a genetic link between depression and alcoholism, which would mean that having one condition would predict the other. Researchers are working to untangle the relationship and to develop treatments that will help with both.
Alcoholism With Depression Is Common
Experts call it comorbidity or a dual diagnosis. When you receive the diagnosis of an addictive disorder as well as a mental health condition you have two demons to face. If your combined problems are with alcohol and depression, you are far from alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) collects data on the subject and states that at least 28 percent of people with alcoholism also struggle with major depressive disorder. Furthermore, someone with alcoholism is nearly four times more likely to have depression than someone who does not struggle with alcohol.
The link is found so often that it has led researchers to look for a genetic factor that ties alcoholism to depression. Studies conducted by the NIAAA have found that family history contributes to both alcoholism and depression and that there is a region on one chromosome that seems to be linked to both conditions. More research will help to clarify exactly which genes are implicated.
Treatments for Alcoholism and Depression
In spite of the strong relationship between these two conditions, progress in treating them together has been slow. Much more research is needed to better understand the complex relationship between the two. For instance, there is the fact that people with depression often drink to feel better. But alcohol is a depressant and only makes symptoms worse. Then there’s the dual dynamic of drinking causing depression and depression causing people to drink. It can be tough to determine which came first in a patient. Currently, professionals treat the two issues separately, rather than a single, complicated illness.
Researchers are moving forward, though, and are trying to learn how to better treat alcoholics with depression. In one study, researchers used a combination of traditional addiction treatment and psychotherapy to address both issues and found success. All participants drank less and showed improvement in depressive symptoms. Another study gave participants medications to treat alcoholism, depression or both. Those receiving both medications saw the most improvement.
As professionals work to craft better treatments that will help those struggling with depressive disorder and addiction, one thing becomes clear: treating both at the same time is important. Traditionally, comorbid patients have been pushed to get clean first and then to have their mental illness addressed and treated. Professionals are seeing now that this doesn’t work. It is more effective to treat both issues at the same time. The alcoholism and the depression become so connected to one another that it is not helpful to treat them sequentially.
The good news for patients struggling with depression and alcohol abuse is that progress is being made. While researchers untangle the genetic components, caregivers develop better treatments. If you struggle with these co-existing conditions, know that help is available. There are trained professionals who understand the need to treat both and can help you to heal.