Dual Diagnosis: Depression And Alcohol Addiction

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Dual Diagnosis Depression And Alcohol Addiction

Using alcohol to cope with depression can lead to an alcohol addiction and worsening depression. In other cases an individual suffering from an alcohol addiction may develop depression as a side effect of their chronic drinking.

Choosing a treatment program which offers dual diagnosis care for these conditions gives you highest chance of healing from both disorders, so that you can obtain better mental and physical health, and a sober life.

The Link Between Depression And Alcohol Addiction

A dual diagnosis, also termed a co-occurring disorder, occurs when a mental health disorder like depression occurs alongside of a substance use disorder, such as alcoholism.

In 2015, roughly 16.1 million Americans encountered one or more major depressive episodes in the past year, many of whom may have also struggled with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), a spectrum of alcohol abuse which does include patterns of addiction.

“Individuals with an alcohol use disorder are…nearly four times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode,” according to an article originally published by Mental Health and Substance Use.

While these two disorders are not always connected, there is a high number of cases which are related. A study in Addictions found that having one disorder doubles the odds of developing the other, a reality which makes good dual diagnosis treatment even more imperative.

Though certain genetic factors may make a person more susceptible to each disorder, depression and AUDs also share certain risk factors. Stress, past instances of trauma, and major life changes (such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or loss of a job) are all factors which could trigger or intensify both depression and an alcohol addiction. Alcohol is commonly used to self-medicate the debilitating symptoms of depression, a behavior which increases the odds of developing an AUD.

In general, one disorder may cause the other, or, if one is already present (like depression), the introduction of the other (alcohol) may worsen it. While the heavy, chronic drinking patterns of addiction are a high risk factor for depression, even incidents of binge drinking can lead to depression, habits which also increase the odds of addiction. This is because alcohol is a depressant.

A depressed individual who drinks on an intermittent basis to cope with feelings of sadness or worthlessness may eventually drink more frequently, setting the stage for addiction and a host of adverse physical and mental health effects to follow.

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The Risks Of Using Alcohol To Cope With Depression

One of the most serious effects of drinking while depressed is heightened depression and the development of an alcohol addiction.

Self-medicating by drinking can create a vicious cycle; as the depression worsens, a person continues to drink more, which in turn causes the depression to deepen further. As the drinking becomes more compulsive, an individual may find themselves addicted while still being severely depressed.

If you’re taking antidepressants for your depression, alcohol can decrease the medication’s effectiveness, increase side effects, and even lead to dangerous reactions. Some people may go so far as to stop taking their medications periodically or altogether so that they can drink, actions which can cause physical and mental health instability and harm.

Research shows that self-harm and suicide run higher in individuals suffering from an alcohol use disorder, dangerous behaviors which are also linked to depression. In fact, the American Journal of Psychiatry reports that an individual suffering from an alcohol addiction has a 59 percent greater chance of committing suicide than those who are not addicted.

If a person is considering suicide, the use of alcohol may make it harder for a person to overcome thoughts of taking their own life. A National Institutes of Health study comments on this: “Alcohol abuse may lead to suicidality through disinhibition, impulsiveness and impaired judgment, but it may also be used as a means to ease the distress associated with committing an act of suicide.” The bottom line is that alcohol and depression isn’t just a dangerous combination, it can be deadly.

Signs And Types Of Depression

Though depression is one of the most common mental health disorders across America today, many individuals, including those who suffer from it, aren’t entirely sure of the symptoms, or even if they have it.

By not knowing, these people are preventing themselves from accessing transformative care which could change their lives. Further, many may drink to cope, without fully understanding why they’re drinking or the full impact of their actions.

Signs of depression include:

  • sadness
  • hopelessness
  • irritability
  • worthlessness
  • low energy and a sense of fatigue
  • sleep difficulties
  • poor concentration, memory, and decision-making abilities
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts

Major depressive disorder is the most common form of depression in the United States. In addition to this, other forms of depression, or circumstances which may create depressive symptoms, include:

  • adjustment disorder with depressed mood
  • depression induced by a medical condition
  • persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
  • perinatal depression
  • psychotic depression
  • seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Depression is a serious and life-changing mental health disorder which requires comprehensive care. Without this, a person’s quality of life can massively decline, while their vulnerability to alcohol abuse may rise.

Signs And Side Effects Of Alcohol Abuse And Addiction

If a person has an alcohol use disorder, especially a severe one which would qualify as addiction, their health, life, and behaviors will all begin to show signs of damage from chronic drinking. As drinking accelerates to the point of addiction, the adverse physical and mental health effects and harm to a person’s life become more progressed.

A major sign of an alcohol addiction is when a person continues to drink despite an awareness that their alcohol consumption is causing this destruction within their life. For instance, even though a person knows that their drinking is exacerbating their depression, they keep on drinking.

Other signs of an alcohol use disorder may include that a person finds they:

  • drink more, or for longer periods of time, than they intended.
  • have difficulty reducing or stopping their drinking even when they try.
  • lose large amounts of time to drinking or feeling unwell from doing so.
  • experience overwhelming urges (cravings) to drink.
  • are unable to fulfill important responsibilities relating to their work, family life, or schooling due to alcohol’s negative impact on their life.
  • keep drinking even when alcohol is taking a toll on their relationships.
  • begin to ignore activities and interests which previously brought them meaning in favor of drinking.
  • engage in risky behaviors (like driving under the influence or unsafe sex) while drinking.
  • need to drink more alcohol to create the desired effect (a tolerance).
  • feel sick should they suddenly stop drinking or significantly reduce the amount they consume (withdrawal symptoms).

It’s important to be on the lookout for these, because some signs they may appear very similar to the isolation and apathy which often accompanies depression. Understanding the signs as a whole will help you to get effective treatment for each condition faster.

Choosing a comprehensive and customized alcohol addiction treatment program works to resolve these and other issues so that a person can learn to live a sober and more fulfilling life.

Treating Depression And Alcohol Addiction

Dual diagnosis treatment for depression and alcohol addiction forms the axis of the best treatment programs for co-occurring disorders. Due to the complicated relationship between these disorders, and the intensive treatment required to treat them, a residential inpatient alcohol treatment program is quite often treatment of choice in these circumstances.

An individualized dual diagnosis treatment program which employs researched-based treatment methods is more adept at offering compassionate and effective care which targets both disorders.

Various medications (such as certain antidepressants), psychotherapy (talk therapy), and social support programs are among the first line of defense for treating both depression and alcohol addiction. Certain individuals facing addiction will require a medically-supervised detox prior to continuing on into treatment, where the psychological components of both the depression and addiction will be addressed.

Once treatment begins, therapy and counseling, both in an individual and group setting, are foundational aspects of treatment. These sessions focus on uprooting any negative thoughts, emotions, or behaviors which may fuel depression and addiction and lead to instability within a person’s life. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one therapeutic method which is beneficial for both depression and AUDs.

The coping skills, stress reduction techniques, interpersonal skills, and increased confidence these sessions impart help to alleviate both the strain of depression and alcohol addiction within a person’s life, both during treatment and going forward into recovery.

If you’re tempted to use alcohol to cope with a low mood, or find that you’re deep within the grips of depression and an alcohol addiction, contact AlcoholTreatment.net today for more resources and treatment options.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America — Depression
ResearchGate — Alcohol and Depression

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