Mental health disorders and addiction often go hand in hand. Individuals with a mental health condition like depression may turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate symptoms. While this may work temporarily, individuals who resort to substances to self-medicate may end up triggering or worsening a mental health condition.
Depression and alcohol use disorder are two common co-occurring conditions. Individuals may use alcohol in an attempt to reduce symptoms of depression. Conversely, someone may begin to experience depression as a result of alcohol abuse.
Regardless of which condition came first, having these co-occurring disorders can make treatment more difficult. A specialized treatment program is often needed to address both conditions simultaneously.
What Is Depression?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an estimated 15 million adults nationwide will experience clinical depression in any given year. However, not all of these individuals will receive treatment for depression; in fact, only as little as half will seek treatment.
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Depression is characterized by an extended period of immense sadness. People experiencing depression often feel hopeless, lonely, worthless, and apathetic. Physical symptoms of depression may include loss of or increase in appetite and extreme fatigue.
There are several different types of depression that may include:
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) — This condition is when a person experiences depression for two or more weeks and has four or more symptoms of depression. This form of depression is one of the most common.
- Bipolar Depression — People with bipolar disorder often feel symptoms of depression for several weeks or months. The depression may be preceded or followed by shorter periods of extreme energy and elevated mood (known as manic or hypomanic episodes).
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — This form of depression is triggered by changes in light. Symptoms most commonly begin during late fall and winter and subside as daylight hours become longer in the spring.
- Psychotic Depression — Psychotic depression is when a person experiences both psychotic symptoms in addition to depressive symptoms.
- Postpartum Depression — Postpartum depression is characterized by experiencing depressive symptoms after giving birth. An estimated 16 percent of all women who bear children will experience this form of depression.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder — This form of depression is when a person experiences depressive symptoms for two or more years.
Causes Of Depression
There is no one cause that has been linked to the development of depression. However, there are several different factors that are believed to contribute to this condition.
Factors that may influence a person’s susceptibility to depression include:
- Childhood Environment — Abuse and/or trauma in early childhood can increase a person’s risk of depression later in life.
- Brain Structure — Studies have shown that some individuals with depression have notably different brain structures than those without depression.
- Genetics — Someone with a close family member who has depression is up to 30 percent more likely to also experience depression.
- Stress — Extreme stress, such as the loss of a loved one, can trigger depression in some individuals.
People who develop depression usually experience one or more of these factors. The more factors a person is exposed to, the more likely he or she will suffer from depression at some point in his or her life.
Symptoms Of Depression
Whether depression is experienced on its own or as a co-occurring disorder alongside alcohol addiction, the symptoms are the same. Each person will experience depression differently. However, there are several symptoms that many people with depression will experience.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- loss of or increased appetite
- increased need for sleep
- loss of interest in activities that are usually enjoyed
- lack of energy
- trouble making decisions
- decreased productivity
- suicidal thoughts or behaviors
A person’s symptoms of depression can range from mild to debilitating. Some people may be able to continue going about their daily lives while dealing with depression. Other individuals may be unable to function due to depressive symptoms.
Depression And Alcohol Abuse And Addiction
Alcohol use disorders and depression are conditions that commonly co-occur. This means that a person will experience both conditions at once. One reason for this is the fact that many factors that contribute to the development of depression also contribute to alcohol abuse and addiction. For example, having a childhood history of trauma or abuse increases the risk of both alcohol addiction and depression.
According to a study published by Psychiatric Times, an estimated 20 percent of adults with an alcohol use disorder experience co-occurring depression. People with depression may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with the symptoms of their condition. Continued use and abuse of alcohol as a coping mechanism can result in alcohol dependence and addiction.
Unfortunately, while alcohol may provide temporary relief, abuse of this substance will only worsen symptoms of depression in the long run. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can exacerbate depressive symptoms and interfere with treatment for depression. Continued alcohol abuse only aggravates these effects and continues the cycle of depression and abuse.
Additionally, alcohol abuse and addiction may cause depression in some individuals. Long-term alcohol abuse can rewire the brain and affect a person’s moods and ability to cope with daily situations. It can also cause chemical imbalances in the brain that can result in depressive symptoms.
Co-occurring depression and alcohol use disorders can make treatment more complicated. The most effective form of treatment for these conditions is a dual diagnosis program that addresses both disorders.
Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder And Depression
If you or a loved one is struggling with both an alcohol use disorder and depression, a specialized treatment program will likely be recommended. Depending on the severity of the conditions, an inpatient program may be suggested as the most effective course of treatment.
A co-occurring disorders treatment program will integrate treatments for both depression and alcohol addiction. These treatments may include antidepressant medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and motivational interviewing. The goal of a dual diagnosis program is to address both conditions simultaneously rather than just one or the other.
To learn more about alcohol use disorder and depression, contact a treatment specialist today.