Research on alcohol consumption has largely taken place in high-income countries, such as the United…
Which Came First, Drinking or Depression?
Some people choose to drink in order to feel brighter and less inhibited in social settings. But perhaps a greater number choose to drink in order to dull the pain of life’s difficulties. Sometimes this decision to drown sorrows and stress in alcohol becomes a regular way of coping with any frustration or disappointment. That’s when drinking can be a sign of depression.
A Clear Link
It isn’t completely clear whether depression drives alcohol abuse or the other way around, but research identifies a definite link between depression and regular alcohol use. Since studies can’t seem to agree on which is the causal agent and which is the result, some experts have landed in the middle, proposing common risk factors for both conditions.
Depression Is a Risk Factor
The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse reports that close to 30 percent of those with clinical depression show accompanying signs of alcohol abuse. There are studies which show that early experiences of depression (childhood or adolescence) can be a risk factor for later alcohol misuse. Women especially seem vulnerable to self-medicating depression with alcohol.
Heavy Drinking Is a Risk Factor
On the other hand, abusing alcohol makes it more likely that a person will become depressed. It could be due to chemical reactions to alcohol within the brain, or it may stem from the consequences of alcohol-related behavior. If alcohol is causing money problems or relational stress, it isn’t surprising that depression might ensue. This means that alcohol may be a biological trigger for depression or it may produce environmental conditions that often lead to depression.
Looking for a Genetic Cause
There have been years of investigation into whether or not depression and alcoholism share a common genetic base. In other words, is there a gene expression which some people have which would make them more prone to both depression and alcohol abuse? So far, research has not been able to identify a single gene although some believe that CHRM2 is a good candidate. This gene is involved with memory and attention function inside the brain.
The Better Solution
The important thing to note is that you cannot drink your way out of feeling down and depressed. Drinking will only deepen those feelings. And if a person drinks too often, they may actually drink themselves into depression.
People who are struggling with depression should talk to their doctor about it. Sometimes depression can be treated without medicine, other times a limited period of antidepressant therapy is all that is required. In the case of alcohol abuse, it is also important to seek some outside help. Participating in group therapy such as Alcoholics Anonymous can be a step out of the negative cycle.