The Link Between Depression & Alcoholism

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Co-Occurring Disorders
Treating Depression & Alcoholism Simultaneously

Alcoholism and depression commonly co-occur, and the link between the two disorders has been thoroughly studied and repeatedly proven. One study published in ISRN Psychiatry about the association between alcohol dependence and depression estimates that the rate of co-occurrence is as high as 68 percent.

Likewise, data from the National Comorbidity Survey examined the co-occurrence rates of depression and alcoholism. The data showed the lifetime prevalence of major depression to be nearly one quarter (24.3 %) among alcohol dependent men, and nearly one half (48.5%) among alcohol dependent women, exceeding the prevalence rates among individuals without an alcohol use disorder. In clinical samples, the lifetime rates of co-occurrence are greater still, ranging from 50 to 70%.

These are only two examples of research studies that have shown a strong correlation between depression and alcoholism. This is why dual diagnosis treatment  — treatment that addresses both depression and alcoholism simultaneously —  is so important. If you or someone you love has been suffering from depression and alcoholism, finding a treatment center that focuses on treating both conditions is absolutely necessary. To learn more about our dual diagnosis program contact us today.

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About Depression

We all feel sad on occasion — feeling sad is an unavoidable part of life. Most people, however, are able to acknowledge and move past their sadness in a somewhat brief amount of time. Additionally, the sadness that people feel tends to stem directly from an unfortunate situation or event. For example, the loss of a loved one, an emotionally difficult move, or failing a test. You feel sad, maybe you cry a little bit, and eventually you process what you are going through and move on.

For individuals suffering from depression, however, simply moving on is not a viable option. Depression is a mental illness that results from a chemical imbalance within the brain. In order to be effectively treated, a person suffering from depression must have access to individual therapy and, when appropriate, antidepressant medication.

Types of Depressive Disorders

Major Depressive Disorder – Also known as major depression, this commonly diagnosed disorder affects roughly 16.2 million American men and women every year. People suffering from major depressive disorder experience symptoms of depression on a daily or near daily basis for the majority of the day.

Seasonal Depression – This type of depression generally affects people in the winter months, when the days get shorter and colder. A lack of sunlight can actually lead to depression, and people who are suffering from seasonal depression tend to sleep long hours and experience a significant lack of motivation.

Persistent Depression – Someone who is struggling with persistent depression will experience the symptoms of depression for two years in a row or longer. The symptoms of persistent depression might not be as severe, but they can still interfere with the ability to take care of daily tasks or function at a high level.

Situational Depression – Situational depression results from a significant life event, such as the loss of a loved one, going through a messy divorce or losing a longtime career. A person who is suffering from situational depression might be prescribed a short-term dose of an antidepressant medication in order to help facilitate the healing process.

Psychotic Depression – A person who is suffering from psychotic depression experiences many of the symptoms associated with major depression along with paranoia, delusions or auditory and visual hallucinations.

Manic Depression – Also known as bipolar disorder, manic depression is characterized by cyclical periods of mania and depression. A person might feel very happy for roughly a week and extremely depressed immediately afterwards. Depressive episodes often last significantly longer than manic episodes.

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General Symptoms of Depression:

  • Unshakable and deep feelings of sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • A lack of self-worth and self-esteem
  • Changes to appetite and eating patterns, which often lead to weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes to sleeping patterns, often characterized by an increased need for sleep and chronic tiredness or fatigue
  • A lack of energy throughout the day
  • An inability to concentrate or pay attention
  • A lack of motivation to participate in day-to-day activities (like grocery store shopping or completing household chores) and fulfill personal obligations
  • Withdrawing from family members and close friends/social isolation
  • Suicidal ideation and thoughts of self-harm

These symptoms are always made worse by heavy drinking. Alcohol itself is a depressant, meaning that over time chronic alcohol use will change the chemistry of the brain and deplete “feel-good” chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. If you or someone you love has been struggling with depression and alcoholism, entering into a dual diagnosis program of recovery is essential.

About Alcohol Abuse

If you’ve ever listened to country music, you’re probably familiar with the idea of “drowning your sorrows” in a glass of whiskey or a few pints of beer. People often drink when they’re sad — this is common practice. After going through a bad break-up or losing a job, many people head straight to the local bar and attempt to forget their problems. Is this the healthiest route to take? Of course not. But for people who are not struggling with a diagnosable depressive disorder or an underlying alcohol use disorder, fleeting stints of self-medication might not spell disaster. The same is not true of someone who is clinically depressed or predisposed to alcoholism.

If you have struggled with alcohol abuse or alcoholism in the past, attempting to self-medicate is never a good idea. If you are unsure whether or not you have been struggling with an undiagnosed alcohol abuse disorder, there are several telltale signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for.

Am I Abusing Alcohol? Questions to Ask:

  • Do I reach for alcohol whenever I feel stressed out, sad or angry?
  • Have I attempted to cut back on the amount of alcohol that I consume on a daily basis, only to drink the same amount as I always do?
  • Have my loved ones ever expressed concern about my drinking patterns?
  • Do I usually consume more alcohol than I originally intended to?
  • Have I tried to control my drinking by switching out liquor for wine or beer, only drinking on the weekends, or setting any similar “rules” for myself?
  • Do I feel anxious when alcohol is not readily available?
  • Do I spend an excessive amount of time obtaining, using and recovering from the effects of alcohol?
  • Do I tend to drink more when I’m feeling sad?

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Dual Diagnosis Recovery

At Guardian Recovery we offer a comprehensive and highly individualized program of dual diagnosis recovery. In order for substance abuse to be effectively tackled, all existing conditions must be addressed simultaneously. We have extensive experience treating men and women of all ages who have been struggling with depression and alcoholism. To learn more about our program or begin your own personal journey of healing, contact us today.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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