Brief Alcohol Interventions Less Effective in Depressed Women

Posted on March 3rd, 2015
Posted in Depression

Brief Alcohol Interventions Less Effective in Depressed WomenCompared to men, women have significantly higher chances of developing a diagnosable mental health problem that falls under the general heading of depression. In a study published in December 2014 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers from Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies explored the impact that depression has on the likelihood that young women with drinking problems or at risk for drinking problems will respond well to counseling sessions known as brief alcohol interventions or brief alcohol motivational interviews.

Women and Depression

The average American woman has a roughly 70 percent higher lifetime risk for depression than the average American man. Several factors help explain this increased level of risk. For example, women of child-bearing age regularly undergo substantial shifts in their hormone levels that can make them more susceptible to the onset of “down” or depressed moods. Women also go through menopause, the close to their child-bearing years that inevitably comes with a profound, potentially mood-destabilizing change in hormone levels. In addition, women traditionally carry much of the emotional/psychological burden of such core social functions as the raising of children and the maintenance of personal and social relationships. Finally, women often must endure the mental/emotional stresses that come with relatively low socioeconomic status.

All women can develop the forms of depression found in men, including the conditions known as major depression (major depressive disorder) and dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder). Women also experience types of depression not found in men. The prime examples here are premenstrual dysphoric disorder—a condition that triggers an exaggerated form of the mood changes associated with premenstrual syndrome—and postpartum depression, a condition that arises in a small but substantial number of new mothers.

Brief Alcohol Interventions

Brief alcohol intervention is a form of counseling designed to change the drinking behaviors of people who currently have diagnosable problems with alcohol intake, as well as the drinking behaviors of people whose intake patterns put them at risk for developing such problems in the near or distant future. Components of such an intervention include an assessment of an individual’s current alcohol use, feedback on the current or potential implications of consuming alcohol in excessive amounts and discussion of ways to drink less or seek appropriate alcohol treatment sources. As their name implies, brief alcohol interventions are meant to produce a meaningful impact in a relatively short span of time. Any properly trained health professional can deliver an intervention, even if he or she does not specialize in substance-related issues.

Women, Depression and Alcohol Intervention

In the study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the Brown University researchers used data gathered from 330 young adults enrolled in college to assess the impact of depression and gender on the odds that a brief alcohol intervention will produce its desired results. All of these study participants qualified as excessive alcohol consumers; 65 percent of the participants were women. Half of the young adults received a complete brief alcohol intervention, while the other half received only an initial assessment of their drinking habits. For both groups, the researchers conducted depression screenings and identified each participant as “low-depression” or “high-depression.”

The researchers used two measurements to gauge the success of brief alcohol intervention: the amount of alcohol consumed in the average week and the number of times each individual engaged in excessive or heavy drinking per month. After reviewing the results of the alcohol interventions and the depression screenings, they concluded that the young women who received an intervention significantly decreased their alcohol intake when they fell into the “low-depression” category. However, the young women in the “high-depression” category did not substantially lower their alcohol consumption after receiving a brief alcohol intervention.

The study’s authors note a reverse situation for the young men taking part in the project: Men in the “low-depression” category did not meaningfully modify their drinking behaviors after receiving a brief alcohol intervention, while men in the “high-depression” category did modify their behaviors. In line with these findings, the authors concluded that, while typical brief interventions work for young men dealing with depression, young women dealing with depression may need to go through modified forms of intervention in order to receive a significant benefit from this form of counseling.

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