Alcohol and Depression

This article helps define the relationship between alcohol and depression. Keep reading for more info about when depression leads to alcoholism, when alcohol abuse leads to depression, and when alcohol and depression are triggered together, and treatment for both.

Alcohol use and depression can have several different relationships in general, and therefore the same goes for teens. This article gives an overview of three crucial elements of the relationship between alcohol and depression that may show up in a teenager’s life.

Understanding Depression

There are two overarching categories of depression: non-pathological depression, a normal emotional reaction to the unhappy events of life that resolves on its own after a duration of several weeks at the most and a mental disorder that may be episodic or chronic, but generally finds a person’s mood depressed, along with symptoms that may include pervasive sadness, insomnia, loss of appetite, indecision, and withdrawal. When depression is spoken of as a problem, as in this article, it is the second type that is meant.

Coexisting Disorders

Alcohol use often coexists with depression. It is estimated that 30-50 percent of alcoholics are suffering from major depression. Alcoholism and depression have a common trigger: highly stressful life events may lead people either to alcohol use or to depression. However, the combination of alcohol and depression can begin from either direction.

When Depression Leads to Alcoholism

People who are depressed, perhaps particularly those who are not in a treatment program, may self-medicate with alcohol. One of the most dangerous effects of alcohol use for teens is considered to be the fact that it can mask depression. This may be especially problematic because the conventional wisdom is that teenagers drink to fit in. A parent who discovers that their teenaged child is using alcohol should consider whether it is a case of seeking an antidote to depression rather than defiance or bandwagon activity. Parents should also be aware that teens who self-medicate for depression may also turn to other drugs, food, or tobacco seeking to alleviate the feelings of depression.

Adding alcohol to the picture can make depression worse. Not only can alcohol make depression worse, but it can increase the risk of suicide. According to a 2003 study, people who are depressed have a suicide rate of 0.5 percent; but for those who are depressed and alcoholic, the rate if 11 percent.

When Alcoholism Leads to Depression

In a March, 2009 study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers examined the relationship of alcoholism and depression in late teens and young adults. They wanted to see which model - reciprocally causal, alcohol use leading to depression or depression leading to alcohol use fit best. The study concluded that for the age group 17-25, alcoholism leading to major depression was the model that best represented the data.

The study postulated that the depressant nature of alcohol could have been a trigger for a depressive episode. It was also suggested that alcohol might cue a genetic tendency for people to be at risk for depression in certain circumstances. Additionally, for a person recovering from depression, alcohol can lead to a relapse.

Triggering Both Alcoholism and Depression Together

Drinking large amounts of alcohol to cope with life events, called “mood-related drinking,” A study published in August, 2009 in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that mood-related drinking could precede co-existing major depression and alcohol dependence. Whether this applies to teens is not clear because they were not included in the study.

Treatment of Alcohol and Depression

For teens who have both a alcohol addiction and a depressive disorder, it is probably the best idea to find a treatment program that is geared to address both disorders. An attempt to deal with one issue first may be unsuccessful.


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