Alcohol addiction and depression are two conditions that have a high likelihood of occurring simultaneously, thus making them a co-occurring disorder. This means that addiction to alcohol and major depression symptoms often appear at the same time. Furthermore, these two conditions are known to exacerbate each other’s negative effects, creating an ever-worsening cycle that can cause serious harm if not properly treated.
However, there is a silver lining: treating one condition can make the other better as well. In other words, if you treat alcohol addiction and see improvements, you will see improvement in the symptoms of depression. Keep in mind that this is not an easy or quick process. In severe cases, treatment can last for months or years.
What is Major Depressive Disorder?
Major depressive disorder is one of the types of depression. It is the most common type of depression in the United States, with an estimated 6.7% of American adults suffering from this condition at any given time. Women are also more prone to suffering from this condition compared to men. Approximately one in every three women will experience major depressive disorder at least once in their lifetime.
People with major depressive disorder experience such severe feelings of depression that they cannot function normally. These feelings can have significant adverse effects on a person’s personal and professional lives. Some people may only experience it once, but most will have several episodes.
How to Spot Alcohol Addiction and Major Depression Symptoms
Some of the symptoms of alcohol addiction include:
• Consuming large amounts of alcohol frequently
• Regular consumption of alcohol, even on a daily basis
• Severe alcohol cravings
• Continued drinking even when experiencing negative health effects
• Consciously hiding alcohol consumption out of guilt or fear of judgment
Symptoms of major depressive disorder include:
• Feelings of melancholy
• Feelings of worthlessness and guilty
• Continuous fatigue
• Lack of energy to perform daily tasks
• Lack of interest in personal relationships
• Lack of interest in work
• Substance addiction, including alcohol
• Suicidal thoughts
If you observe more than a couple of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it’s important to seek help right away.
Causes of Major Depressive Disorder
The most difficult thing about finding treatment for alcohol and major depressive symptoms is that they are hard to diagnose. In many cases, the symptoms can overlap and even mask the other. Many people who suffer from major depressive disorder may use alcohol to self-medicate. Those who drink frequently are at greater risk of developing depression, and subsequently increase their alcohol consumption to feel better.
Studies have found that people with a family history of alcohol addiction or major depressive disorder have a higher risk of developing either condition. Those who have suffered trauma or abuse are also more likely to develop this co-occurring disorder.
Can Alcohol Addiction Cause Major Depressive Disorder?
While it has been found either condition can cause the other, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has determined that it is more likely that alcohol addiction can lead to a person developing major depressive disorder. When a person is struggling with alcoholism and fails to cope with their situation, they can develop feelings of depression. They feel weak and inadequate, which leads to more drinking to help manage their negative emotions.
The Relationship between Major Depressive Disorder and Alcohol Addiction
According a study conducted by the University of Otago, addiction to alcohol and major depression symptoms are closely correlated. As many as 40% of alcoholics will develop major depressive disorder. This is likely due to two things: the sedative effects of alcohol and its ease of access. Unlike anti-depressant drugs, people don’t need a prescription to get alcohol. What’s more, alcohol is much cheaper compared to medication.
Drinking alcohol can and does relieve major depressive symptoms, albeit temporarily. However, since the effects of alcohol can wear off quickly, people who use it to self-medicate will need to take it on a regular basis to keep feeling the effects. What’s more, they find that they need to take it in ever-increasing amounts as they develop a stronger tolerance over time. This cycle will likely continue and worsen until treatment is given.
The first step in treating addiction to alcohol and major depressive symptoms is consulting a licensed addiction counselor. Neglecting to find proper consultation can lead to a misdiagnosis, or worse, trying to self-diagnose. This problem is likely due to the fact that many people mistakenly feel that having either alcohol addiction or major depressive disorder makes them appear weak and open to ridicule from others. Some researchers even believe that this is the reason why men are less likely to seek treatment compared to women.
Once this co-occurring disorder has been diagnosed by a professional, there are several treatments that can be prescribed, such as:
Both alcohol and major depressive symptoms usually cause a chemical imbalance in the brain, particularly by decreasing the amount of neurotransmitters. Anti-depressants are usually prescribed to help correct this chemical imbalance and relieve the symptoms of both conditions. In the case of severe alcohol addiction, drugs such as naltrexone, acamprosate, or gabapentin can be prescribed to help curb the craving.
• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective therapy methods for people with major depressive disorder. CBT helps people identify their triggers and manage their negative thoughts and emotions by modifying their behavior.
Many people with alcohol addiction may require rehab to help detox. Detox is a dangerous and long process, especially for those who have suffered from alcohol addiction for a long time. Withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening, and should be managed in a controlled environment. However, people with mild alcohol addiction can undergo detox as an outpatient.
• Support Groups
Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can help by offering group sessions, classes, and call centers. These groups are immensely helpful for people who might not have a strong support system in their private circles.
Getting Help Today
Suffering from alcohol addictions and major depressive symptoms might feel hopeless, but there is always hope! For those who are willing to take that first step, help is available. There are numerous treatment facilities that are able to give the best care possible. As a member of the Harmony Recovery Group family, Recovery in Tune offers evidence-based treatment for co-occurring disorders.