Alcoholism and Depression – Partners in Crime

By Karen Corcoran-Walsh

Karen Corcoran-Walsh owns and runs two substance abuse treatment centers in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. One is for teens – Inspirations for Youth and Families – and the other is for adults – the Cove Center for Recovery. They are both licensed to treat dual-diagnosed clients. Dual diagnosis is the term used when a person has a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) and a problem with alcohol or drugs. A person who suffers from dual diagnosis has two separate illnesses, and each illness needs its own treatment plan.

Treating Alcoholism and Depression

alcoholism and depression

Karen Corcoran-Walsh (above) is a frequent guest on the Ask Dr. Nandi daytime healthcare television show

Depression is a very serious mental illness in itself without alcohol addiction. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 150 million people around the globe suffer from depression. Despite the widespread nature of this disorder, it is often misunderstood and neglected – leaving those struggling with the mental health illness to deal with their depression by themselves.
Often people with depression drink alcohol heavily to lift their spirits rather than see a psychiatrist or go to a mental health facility. Clinically speaking, this way of dealing with depression is termed – self-medicating.

Self-Medicating with Alcohol

According to Healthline, a prominent health insurance agency, if alcohol is used as a regular treatment for depression, it can lead to addiction, which only exacerbates the mood disorder. Additionally, alcoholism is an addiction that can be extremely difficult to overcome. It can take months, years, and sometimes a life-time to attain sobriety if they are lucky since many die from the dreadful addiction either through an alcohol related fatality like a car accident or a physical condition like cirrhosis.

The Link between Alcoholism and Depression

There are countless people with depression that depend on alcohol as a remedy which may provide temporary relief, but eventually this form of self-medication complicates the issues and brings forth more pain.

Depression can also lead to alcohol addiction, which compounds the problem even further. Depression is one example of a condition that is referred to as a co-occurring disorder in the mental health and addiction profession. The combination of alcoholism and depression can be toxic and result in more severe depressive episodes.

What happens is the self-medicating solution slips into a dependency, and the dependency slips into an addiction. Not only are depressive types now dependent on alcohol, but they start to forget how to use their healthy coping strategies like – exercise – through lack of use.

According to WebMD, nearly one-third of people with major depression also have an alcohol problem. Often, the depression comes first.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that those with anxiety disorders like depression may find that alcohol can make their anxiety symptoms worse and they are two to three times more likely to have an alcohol addiction at some point in their lives than the general population.

For many gripped with depression, they are under the illusion that alcohol will provide them with immediate relief from their mental anguish making it very attractive for those who are struggling to overcome their mood disorder. Those who suffer from depression often find managing their career and family responsibilities to be too great a challenge and may be tempted to abuse alcohol to escape from feelings of disappointment.

Many people are unaware that alcohol is a powerful central nervous system depressant that can cause or influence severe mood swings. Typical treatment involves therapy and medications in order to successfully manage disorders that compromise mental and emotional health.

Relying on alcohol and other drugs to manage depressive episodes can easily lead to alcohol addiction. I recommend people who find themselves in this predicament to first enter a drug detox followed by a stay at a rehab center. These steps can save lives for those who have developed alcohol addiction as a result of trying to cope with depression.

Seeking treatment for alcoholism without addressing an underlying mood disorder is a recipe for disaster. The dual diagnosis candidate for a patient may find it impossible to avoid future problems and relapses. When the condition is left untreated, depressive disorders with alcohol abuse can be far more serious than a relapse. It can be a sure fire way to overdosing.

When alcohol is mixed with other drugs whether it is a stimulant like cocaine or a depressant like xanax – the outcome could be deadly.

Perhaps Drinkware – an alcohol abuse awareness website – explains the physiological effects depressant drugs have on your body most clearly. Drinkware says depressant drugs such as alcohol slow the brain/central nervous system down, while the stimulant tries to speed it up – putting your brain/central nervous system under great pressure. Now, when you combine alcohol with other depressant drugs like heroin – the effect they each have of slowing your central nervous system will be multiplied, and you risk your body completely shutting down.

Suffering from both depression and alcohol abuse can be a viscous cycle. If someone is experiencing frequent and severe depressive episodes, the decision to seek professional help in the form of first entering a detox facility followed by a trip to an addiction treatment can vastly reduce the risk of developing a drug addiction or other substance dependency related issue.

Programs that are designed to treat both alcohol addiction as well as anxiety and mood disorders can be an essential resource throughout every step of the recovery process. Seeking care from a professional rehab treatment center is usually the most effective way to overcome alcoholism with depression.


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