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Alcohol and Depression

-WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 12, 2016

Some people say they drink alcohol to “drown their sorrows” after a bad breakup, job loss, or other major life stress. And yes, because alcohol makes you sleepy, a few beers or glasses of wine can seem to relax you and relieve anxiety.

A drink once in a while when you’re stressed out or blue is one thing. But when you need that cocktail every time a problem crops up, it could be a sign of alcohol abuse. (Click here for a brief quiz)

There’s also a strong link between serious alcohol use and depression. The question is, does regular drinking lead to depression, or are depressed people more likely to drink too much? Both are possible.

Does Depression Drive You to Drink?

Nearly one-third of people with major depression also have an alcohol problem. Often, the depression comes first. Research shows that depressed kids are more likely to have problems with alcohol a few years down the road. Also, teens who’ve had a bout of major depression are twice as likely to start drinking as those who haven’t.
Women are more than twice as likely to start drinking heavily if they have a history of depression. Experts say that women are more likely than men to overdo it when they’re down.

Drinking will only make depression worse. People who are depressed and drink too much have more frequent and severe episodes of depression, and are more likely to think about suicide. Heavy alcohol use also can make antidepressants less effective.

Does Drinking Too Much Make You Depressed?

Alcohol is a depressant. That means any amount you drink can make you more likely to get the blues. Drinking a lot can harm your brain and lead to depression.

When you drink too much, you’re more likely to make bad decisions or act on impulse. As a result, you could drain your bank account, lose a job, or ruin a relationship. When that happens, you’re more likely to feel down, particularly if your genes are wired for depression.

Are Genes or Lifestyle to Blame?

It’s not always clear if depression makes you drink or vice versa. Studies of twins have shown that the same things that lead to heavy drinking in families also make depression more likely.

Researchers have found at least one common gene. It’s involved in brain functions like memory and attention. Variations in this gene might put people at risk for both alcohol misuse and depression.
Home and social environment also play a role. Children who were abused or 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 a while for social reasons unless you have a health problem that prevents you from drinking. But if you turn to alcohol to get you through the day, or if it causes trouble in your relationships, at work, in your social life, or with how you think and feel, you have a more serious problem.

Alcohol abuse and depression are both serious problems that you shouldn’t ignore. If you think you have a problem with either, talk to your doctor or psychologist. There are lots of choices when it comes to medication that treats depression, and there are drugs that lower alcohol cravings and counter the desire to drink heavily. Your doctor will probably treat both conditions together. You can also get help from Alcoholics Anonymous or an alcohol treatment center in your area.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 12, 2016

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