Alcohol and Depression
Are Genes or Lifestyle Factors Responsible for the Link Between Alcohol Use and Depression?
It's not always clear for a given individual when depression triggers alcohol abuse or vice versa. But both conditions may share common triggers. Studies of twins have shown that the same factors that contribute to heavy drinking in families also contribute to the risk for major depression.
Researchers have been looking for common genes that might lie behind both conditions. They have pinpointed at least one -- a variant of the gene CHRM2 -- that is involved in several important brain functions, including memory and attention. Variations in this gene might put people at risk for both alcohol misuse and depression.
A person's home and social environment also can play a role in determining whether that person will develop both depression and a drinking problem. Children who have been abused or who were raised in poverty appear to be more likely to develop both conditions.
Alcohol and Depression: What to Do
It probably won't hurt to have a glass of wine or beer once in awhile for social reasons unless you have a health problem that prevents you from drinking. But if you're misusing alcohol on a regular basis as a coping mechanism, you have a more serious problem.
Drinking will only worsen the depression you already feel. People who are depressed and who abuse alcohol have more frequent and severe episodes of depression, and are more likely to think about committing suicide. Heavy alcohol use also can make medicines for depression work less effectively.
Alcohol abuse and depression are both serious problems that you shouldn't ignore. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, talk to your doctor or psychologist, or get help from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or another alcohol treatment center in your area. Also talk to your doctor or another health care professional about getting help for depression. There is evidence that taking antidepressants may help relieve depression. And a number of other medicines can directly help reduce alcohol cravings and counter the desire to drink heavily.