Alcohol abusers' depression often related to drinking

February 12, 2013

For problem drinkers, bouts of depressive symptoms are often the direct result of their heavy alcohol intake, according to a study in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Experts have long known that heavy drinking can spur temporary episodes of depression—what's known as "substance-induced depression." However, this information is not always apparent to busy clinicians, and the new findings strengthen the evidence that the phenomenon exists as well as how common and clinically important it is.

"I don't know that the average person realizes that heavy drinking can induce mood problems," said lead researcher Marc A. Schuckit, M.D., of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

What's more, not every doctor might be aware of it, either. But it's important that he or she pay close attention to this problem, Schuckit said, because depression caused by heavy drinking has a different prognosis and is treated much differently from major that are not seen in the context of heavy drinking. Although the symptoms of independent and substance-induced depressions can be identical, if the sadness develops in the context of heavy drinking, the symptoms are likely to lift within several weeks to a month of abstinence and rarely require antidepressants to go away.

The findings come from a 30-year study of nearly 400 men who were 18 years old at the outset. About half were at increased risk for drinking problems because their fathers were alcoholics. Over three decades, about 41 percent of the men with alcoholic fathers developed or dependence, and nearly 20 percent suffered at least one bout of major depression.

For men with , though, almost one third of those major depressive episodes were seen only while they were drinking heavily.

It's important for doctors to consider use disorders as a possible cause of patients' , Schuckit said—rather than simply "reaching for the prescription pad" and recommending an antidepressant.

If alcohol is the cause, "the depression is very likely to disappear with abstinence," Schuckit said.

Many people think that some individuals drink heavily because they are depressed, and that is the case for some. But Schuckit's team actually found no evidence that people with a history of were at increased risk for developing alcohol problems in the future.

"If you're an alcoholic, you're going to have a lot of mood problems," Schuckit said. "And you may be tempted to say, 'Well, I drink a lot because I'm depressed.' You may be right, but it's even more likely that you're depressed because you drink heavily."

Explore further: Response to alcohol, peers, expectancies, and coping all contribute to adolescent drinking

More information: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 74(2), 271, 2013

Related Stories

Response to alcohol, peers, expectancies, and coping all contribute to adolescent drinking

July 15, 2011
A low level of response (LR) to alcohol is one of several genetically influenced characteristics that may increase an individual's risk for heavy drinking and alcohol problems. A new study has confirmed key elements of a ...

Brain activity may predict teens' heavy drinking

August 8, 2012
Heavy drinking is known to affect teenagers' developing brains, but certain patterns of brain activity may also help predict which kids are at risk of becoming problem drinkers, according to a study in the September issue ...

Heavy drinking may lead to stroke earlier in life

September 10, 2012
A new study shows that people who have three or more alcoholic drinks per day may be at higher risk for experiencing a stroke almost a decade and a half earlier in life than those who do not drink heavily. The research is ...

Recommended for you

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

Findings link aldosterone with alcohol use disorder

July 18, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute ...

Depression among young teens linked to cannabis use at 18

July 17, 2017
A study looking at the cumulative effects of depression in youth, found that young people with chronic or severe forms of depression were at elevated risk for developing a problem with cannabis in later adolescence.

Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

July 7, 2017
One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are ...

Researchers say U.S. policies on drugs and addiction could use a dose of neuroscience

June 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug ...

Study provides further support for genetic factors underlying addictions

June 13, 2017
Impairment of a particular gene raises increases susceptibility to opioid addiction liability as well as vulnerability to binge eating according to a new study.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PJS
not rated yet Feb 12, 2013
wha??? i'm shocked. shocked, i say!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.