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Alcohol and Nicotine Contribute to Depression

It is well known that alcohol has negative effects on mood and health and that tobacco is linked to lung cancer and emphysema, but recent studies indicate a more direct association between alcohol and nicotine use and depression, writes Christine Howell of Online College Guru.

In 2007, the Columbia University National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released its findings on the link between depression and smoking in teenagers, Howell writes. The study showed clear evidence that teens who smoke are more than twice as likely to experience the symptoms of depression in the course of a given year than non-smoking teenagers.

This reinforces the results of a previous study published in the journal Pediatrics in October 2000, which showed a direct causal link between cigarette smoking and depression in adolescents. Previous studies had noted the link, but were unable to demonstrate causality; the 2000 study showed that teens who showed no signs of depression were four times more likely to become depressed during the course of a year’s time if they began to smoke, as opposed to those who did not smoke cigarettes at all.

The effects of alcohol are significantly worse since it is itself a depressant, writes Howell. Alcohol works on the central nervous system by lowering the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. In contrast, antidepressants typically work by increasing those same levels. For patients already suffering from depression, alcohol produces the precise symptoms they are already experiencing; alcohol use can worsen the severity of depression and increase its duration by rendering the pharmaceutical treatments ineffective. The negative effects of alcohol use on depression increase as frequency and amount consumed increase; this positive correlation is linked to the cumulative effect of alcohol’s reduction in serotonin and norepinephrine levels.

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 1997 showed a gender-based correlation between depression and alcohol usage. According to the study, alcohol was a causal factor in men’s subsequent depression, and women tended to use alcohol as a result of their depression, possibly in an attempt to self-medicate depressive symptoms.

Howell writes that for those recovering from alcohol abuse, depression can be an unwelcome result of alcohol withdrawal. A University of North Carolina School of Medicine study found that when mice were given regular doses of alcohol, withdrawal from alcohol caused depressive symptoms. The study also demonstrated a link between alcohol use and a failure to produce new neurons in certain areas of the brain necessary for proper cognitive function.

Many patients struggling with the recovery process turn to cigarettes to assist them in combating alcohol abuse, but cigarettes have been shown to be a factor in greater risks of relapse, and are not recommended for recovering alcoholics for this reason.

Howell writes that certain conclusions can be derived from the existing evidence. Especially for adolescents and those with a predisposition to depression, alcohol and cigarettes should be avoided as they worsen the effects of depression and can trigger it even in those not already demonstrating depressive symptoms.

Those in recovery from alcohol abuse should be considered at high risk for depression, and should avoid cigarette use in order to avoid relapse during this critical time. Additionally, men should be especially careful in their use of alcohol, as it has been shown that men are more likely than women to suffer from depression as a direct result of their alcohol usage. For most people, avoiding the use of these mood-altering substances altogether is the best precaution against developing alcohol- and nicotine-related depression.

Posted on November 13th, 2009
Posted in Depression

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