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Alcohol and Depression Strong Co-occurring Connection

Alcohol and Depression Signs & Symptoms. Treatment for Alcoholism and Depression.

What is Depression?

Feelings of sadness, lack of energy, or trouble sleeping can be common occurrences individuals experience daily. It’s even more complicated when someone is struggling with alcohol and depression.

Losing a job, the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship can naturally cause feelings of grief. And often, people may use the word “depressed” to verbalize how they are feeling. In individuals diagnosed with depression, these low moods and feelings of sadness are often much more severe and occur for extended periods [1]. Depressive disorders can affect a person’s ability to function in many areas of life and are persistent[1]. Symptoms can affect every aspect of their life, including how they think, feel, and handle daily activities such as eating, exercising, or working. 

Across the globe, depression affects more than 264 million people of all ages and is a leading cause of disability worldwide[3]. Between 2013 to 2016, 8.1% of American adults aged 20 and over had depression within two weeks. While no single cause leads to depression, many factors may contribute to its development, including genetics, personality traits, environment, various life stressors, and substance use such as alcohol[1,2].

It is common to see abuse of alcohol and depression go hand in hand. These co-occurring disorders in individuals struggling with alcoholism and depression feed off one another. Additionally, it has been indicated that having either AUD or a depressive disorder roughly doubles a person’s chances of developing another. Thankfully, both alcoholism and depression diseases can be managed and treated effectively[3].

Types of Depression

When it comes to depression, some depressive disorders are more severe than others. Additionally, while many have similarities, each condition has unique symptoms[2]. A depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the severity and number of symptoms experienced[3].

A person may suffer from [2]:

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder: Depression lasting more than two years.
  • Peripartum Depression: Depression occurring during or after pregnancy, impairing a woman’s ability to care for her child.
  • Psychotic Depression: Depression experienced with a distortion of reality, such as hallucinations or delusions.
Individuals who suffer from alcohol and depression are more likely to encounter dangerous withdrawal.
Individuals who suffer from alcohol and depression are more likely to encounter dangerous withdrawal.

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Alcohol can significantly impact the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain, making depression worse.
Alcohol can significantly impact the neurotransmitters in your brain, making depression worse.

Alcohol and Depression Disorders

It can be challenging to know which one comes first—AUD or depression, but research has shown that regardless of the order, both issues are among the most prevalent psychiatric disorders and co-occur often. Studies have also indicated that this dual diagnosis with alcohol and depression, or comorbidity, is associated with greater severity and a worse prognosis for both diseases.

Two possible explanations exist for the increased risk of developing an AUD or major depression: common underlying genetic and environmental factors and the causal effect of each disorder that increases the risk of developing the other.

Signs & Symptoms of Depression

While many people may feel down or sad sometimes, a depression diagnosis would mean experiencing the below symptoms for at least two weeks[1]. The signs and symptoms of depression include[2]:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Sad moods last most of the day/week
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Loss of appetite or significantly increased need
  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and other activities
  • Failure to fulfill roles in life, such as parenting or working
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Moving very slowly or unable to do things at an average pace

For example, abusing alcohol spends a substantial amount of time drinking may also hide an underlying genetic predisposition to depression. At times, depression can lead a person to “self-medicate” by drinking alcohol to feel better. And drinking alcohol, which depresses the central nervous system, can lead to more depressed feelings in those already suffering from depressive and other mood disorders. In the end, it creates a vicious cycle.

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What is Alcoholism?

Not everyone who struggles with alcohol abuse is addicted to it, but it can be helpful to understand warning signs and symptoms that put you at risk of developing an AUD. Alcoholism is when a person can no longer control alcohol use, compulsively abusing it despite its negative ramifications, and experiences emotional distress when not drinking.

AUD is diagnosed based on individual meeting criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). To be diagnosed with AUD, a person must meet at least 2 of the following criteria within 12 months [4].

  • Drinking more alcohol than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut back or stop drinking
  • Intense cravings to use alcohol
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when they stop drinking
  • Developing a tolerance for alcohol requires them to drink more and more to achieve the same level of intoxication as before
  • Drinking and engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving
  • Drinking even though they know it makes a physical or emotional problem worse
  • Engaging in the use of alcohol, even when it increases family conflict
  • Drinking to the point that the person cannot fulfill their roles at home or work
  • Giving up activities they previously enjoyed drinking
  • Spending a significant amount of time drinking or recovering from drinking

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism)

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), commonly known as alcoholism, occurs when alcohol consumption becomes so uncontrollable that it negatively affects essential aspects of your life. Alcoholism can cause damage to relationships, job prospects, finances, and physical and mental health.

Physical effects of long-term alcohol abuse include:

  • Organ Damage
  • Infertility
  • Stomach Bleeding
  • Changes to the brain

Alcohol’s depressant nature hampers the pleasure centers of your brain, which can eventually lead to chronic mood issues.

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How to Help an Alcoholic?

Knowing how to help an alcoholic is the first step. Unfortunately, when a person is struggling with alcohol addiction, they may hide how much they drink, lie to themselves or others about their consumption, or deny they have a problem. This can make it difficult for them to get help with alcohol or for loved ones to talk with them about seeking treatment.

To better understand this complex disorder and how to help someone stop drinking, the following discusses the stages of addiction development, the risk factors to be aware of, how to help an alcoholic in denial, how alcoholism is diagnosed, and what effective alcoholism treatment looks like. Although alcoholism, or an alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic disease, it is treatable and managed effectively.

Alcohol could be a coping mechanism for depression in some people, while for others, alcoholism could also lead to depression due to the negative impacts of alcoholism.
Alcoholism and depression disorders are commonly diagnosed together. Alcohol could be a coping mechanism for depression in some people, while for others, alcoholism could also lead to depression due to the negative impacts of alcoholism.

Step 1: Learn About Alcoholism

Without fully understanding alcohol use disorder, it can be hard to talk about alcoholism with your loved one who’s struggling.

Step 2: Research Alcohol Treatment Facilities

The type of treatment that will be most suitable for your loved one may be determined by several individual factors such as previous attempts to quit, current alcohol use and corresponding level of physical alcohol dependence, any co-occurring medical and mental health conditions, and any other substance use.

Step 3: Choose a Time to Talk 

Committing to getting sober and seeking treatment for alcoholism takes courage. Yet, often, those who need help with a drinking problem may not immediately be receptive to discussing treatment or admitting that they have a problem. Because of this, it may take a few conversations before they are willing to discuss treatment.

Step 4: Check Your Addiction Treatment Insurance 

If they’re ready to seek treatment, you may want to start thinking about how you will cover the cost of rehab. The cost of a treatment program for alcoholism[5] can vary widely, depending on the type of program and your insurance coverage. Because treatment costs can differ, you want to ensure the program you enroll your loved one in will work.

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Alcohol and Depression Treatment

Treatment for co-occurring alcohol and depression can be challenging, but integrated approaches that address both disorders can be practical. Studies have shown that treating both alcohol and depression results in better outcomes for patients who did not also receive treatment for depression. An integrated approach focuses on both disorders within the same sessions or interactions and uses specific therapeutic techniques and strategies within a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan.

Effective treatment for alcoholism[6] and co-occurring depression may include a mix of therapies, including private. Group counseling, behavioral therapies, medications to ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms or treat symptoms of depression, and long-term aftercare planning to help maintain sobriety[2] Before entering an inpatient or outpatient setting, a person seeking rehab treatment will need to go through a detox phase. Because detoxing from alcohol can be uncomfortable—or life-threatening for those who’ve developed a severe physical dependence—a medically monitored detox setting is recommended.

How to Seek Treatment for Alcohol and Depression

If you’re ready to seek treatment for alcohol and depression, We Level Up can help. We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about the connection between alcohol and depression, that co-occurring diagnosis, and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

We Level Up treatment center can help with inpatient therapy programs exclusively. Depending on the extent of secondary behavioral disorders such as alcohol and depression, we can first help assess your condition and guide you to suitable treatment options. We do not provide outpatient and PHP services at this time. Call to learn more.

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[1] Depression | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA –

[2] NIMH » Depression ( –

[3] World Health Organization –

[4] American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing; 155, 490-491.

[5] Alcohol Org –

[6] Alcohol Org –

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