Bottling it Up: Depression, Alcohol Abuse, and Treatment

depression and alcoholism treatment

Some people “drown their sorrows” during difficult times, reaching for the bottle when things get tough. Sometimes, when a person is feeling sad, hopeless, or alone, he or she will bottle those feelings up and drink them down, using alcohol to “numb the pain.” These situations or expressions may sound familiar to you. Perhaps you know them quite well because you, too, have a habit of drinking your feelings away. Or, maybe it isc your loved one who uses booze to silence the sadness each day. You are not alone. Depression and alcohol abuse often co-occur, and their simultaneity is more common than you’d think.

As we conclude April – National Alcohol Awareness Week – and move into May, which is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, Turnbridge would like to shed some light on the harrowing relationship between alcoholism and depression, as well as the treatment options available.

Facts About Depression and Alcohol Abuse

According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 19.3 million people in the United States (over age 12) are suffering from depression, formally known as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Approximately 3.1 million are just teenagers; 3.7 million young adults also struggle with MDD.

Those facing depression typically experience consistent or prolonged periods of sadness, loneliness, worthlessness, hopelessness, and feelings of apathy. Some people are completely devoid of energy, spending their time sleeping or locked in their bedroom at any chance they get. Those experiencing depression may also have suicidal thoughts. Some may turn to alcohol to self-medicate their pain, though the effects are only temporary. In actuality, alcohol exacerbates depressive symptoms.

Just as depression is among the most prevalent mental health disorders in the U.S. today, alcohol is the most commonly abused addictive substance in the United States. Approximately 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence. Alcohol is second leading, preventable cause of death in the United States. But here’s another unsettling statistic:

Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among younger Americans, ages 15 to 34 – and the leading contributors of suicide? Mood disorders (like depression) and alcohol and drug use.

With alcohol abuse and Major Depressive Disorder being so widespread, it is also important that we recognize the crystal-clear connection between these two devastating disorders: More than one-third of those who suffer from depression have a co-occurring alcohol use disorder. According to some experts, 30 to 50 percent of people with alcoholism, at any given time, are also suffering from clinical depression.

Often, depression comes first – because alcohol is a depressant, it relaxes anxieties and makes a person sleepy. For those suffering depression, alcohol’s effects can feel relieving, as though it’s an escape. Like the chicken-and-the-egg, alcoholism may also precede depression. In fact, the inverse is more common. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, depression can arise and intensify during a battle with alcoholism, leading to even more drinking and thus the addiction cycle.

According to one study published in Addiction, those dealing with an alcohol use disorder or Major Depressive Disorder are at double the risk of developing the other condition.

Alcohol Abuse, Depression, Teens, and Young Adults

What’s especially saddening about depression and alcohol abuse is how they each impact our youth. Most mental health disorders develop before age 24, but half of cases begin before a person’s 14th birthday. If you believe your son or daughter is at risk for depression, it is imperative to watch for the symptoms now. Those affected can start showing signs in early adolescence.

It is also in adolescence that a teen will typically try drinking or using drugs for the first-time. These are some of the most impulsive years of their lives. Because their brain’s reward system is in progress, and their brains not fully matured, teenagers are constantly looking for excitement and something “new,” heightening the likelihood for substance use. The issue is, introducing any addictive substance at this age can draw out any latent mental health issues, too. As we detailed in a recent article about cannabis-induced psychosis, substance use in adolescence can lead to the early onset of mental illness.

The same goes vice versa. Depression can lead to alcohol abuse. Teenagers battling depression are more likely to have problems with alcohol a few years down the road, according to WebMD. Adolescents who have already experienced a depressive episode are twice as likely to start drinking as those who haven’t.

Why Alcohol and Depression Don’t Mix

As noted above, people battling MDD are often drawn to the sedative effects of alcohol.  The sleepiness and relaxing nature of the substance helps distracts individuals from feelings of sadness. In a twisted way, it helps them cope – at least temporarily. Long-term, however, alcohol can be detrimental to depression and a person’s overall health.

Despite its “feel-good” effects, alcohol is in fact a central nervous system depressant. And while it may trigger a “good mood” at first, the aftermath of drinking is often associated with heightened depressive episodes. The depressive symptoms from alcohol are at their peak when a person first stops drinking, during the hangover or withdrawal stages. Not to mention, alcohol decreases the effectiveness of anti-depressant medications, making MDD both worse and less manageable.

Alcohol and Depression Treatment

The relationship between alcohol abuse and depression is clear – one can induce the other, no matter which way you put it. It’s important to note, however, that the relationship is cyclical, as well. A person battling these co-occurring disorders will go back-and-forth between the blues and the bottle. Famous actor Robin Williams is just one example of the toll that addiction and depression can take on a person. Alcohol abuse and depression can be extremely challenging co-occurring disorders to address, and professional, dual diagnosis treatment is needed to truly overcome each.

Many people believe that you cannot be addicted to alcohol. Because alcohol is so widely accepted, it is also hard to tell when someone has a drinking problem. To this end, it is ever important not to dismiss the dangers of alcohol abuse, the signs of an alcohol problem, or the symptoms of depression in concurrence with drinking. Depression and alcohol abuse make for a toxic cocktail when combined:

Those facing alcoholism and depression typically have a much higher risk of adopting suicidal behaviors, poor treatment adherence, higher relapse rates, and higher chances of re-hospitalization. If your loved one needs alcohol and depression treatment, know that Turnbridge is here.

In approaching co-occurring depressive and substance use disorders, Turnbridge integrates the treatment of each disease, mental and addictive: addressing each at the same place, at the same time, and with the same amount of attention. Evidence shows that a patient must recover both mentally and physically in order to truly find recovery, and long-term dual diagnosis treatment is recommended. With counseling, behavioral therapy, a safe healing environment, and the 24/7 clinical and emotional support, Turnbridge’s individualized rehab programs can help your loved one maintain a steady recovery. 

Contact Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 to learn more.