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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Binge Drinking Risk in Depressed Women

Binge drinking may be more common in people with major depression, especially women, a Canadian study shows. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages on one occasion.
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 3, 2007 -- Binge drinking may be more common in people with major depression, especially women, a Canadian study shows.

In a telephone poll of more than 14,000 Canadian men and women, researchers found those with major depression -- especially the women -- were more likely to report drinking five or more drinks per occasion.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages on one occasion.

The study was done by Kathryn Graham, PhD, and colleagues. Graham works in the psychology department at Canada's University of Western Ontario and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in London, Ontario.

It is reported in the January issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

In the poll, participants answered questions about their drinking habits in the past week and the past year, as well as questions about depression symptoms.

Of those polled, about 10% of the women and nearly 6% of the men had symptoms that met the diagnostic criteria for major depression.

Most of the poll's participants weren't heavy drinkers. Fewer than two in 10 said they drank more than once or twice a week. And participants reported drinking only two drinks per occasion, on average.

Although those with major depression were more likely to binge, they didn't appear to drink more frequently than those who weren't depressed.

"Depression is most strongly related to a pattern of binge drinking," Graham says in a journal news release. "A pattern of frequent but low quantity drinking is not associated with depression."

In the study, people who were just feeling low but did not have major depression weren't particularly likely to binge drink.

The study leaves some unanswered questions.

Which came first, depression or binge drinking?

Participants weren't followed over time. So it's not clear whether major depression led to binge drinking, whether binge drinking caused the major depression, or whether other factors were at work.

Past studies on depression and drinking have had mixed results, Graham notes. She and her colleagues call for more research on alcohol and depression.

Major depression isn't the same as briefly feeling blue. It's a serious -- and often treatable -- condition that can lead to an inability to function, or even to suicide.

People with major depression may experience five or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

  • Persistent sadness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, including sex
  • Difficulty concentrating and complaints of poor memory
  • Worsening of coexisting chronic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Fatigue, lack of energy
  • Anxiety, agitation, irritability
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Slow speech; slow movements
  • Headache, stomachache, and digestive problems

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