The Danger of Using Alcohol to Cope with Depression

Woman drinking alcohol

Contributor: Roseann Rook, CADC Clinical Addictions Specialist Timberline Knolls

A recent study released by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) revealed that alcohol abuse and depression were among the top causes of avoidable emergency room visits on a national level, highlighting the seriousness of these mental health issues.

Preventable issues could be defined as visits that involved a patient being discharged home without needing any diagnostic tests, procedures, medications or blood tests.

Researchers found that nearly 17 percent of all visits for mood disorders, such as depression, could have been avoidable, as were over 10 percent of all alcohol-related visits to the emergency room [1].

Some of the factors that could decrease avoidable visits to the emergency department may include regular and accessible care to mental health facilities, which may be difficult for many who lack adequate mental health coverage.

These findings are revealing of the prevalence of both alcohol-related issues and mood disorders, like depression, with which countless individuals struggle.

Many people who may be dealing with problematic alcohol use or depression may be more likely to seek out help in emergency departments when symptoms are severe rather than connecting with mental health treatment.

Co-Occurring Alcohol Abuse and Depression

It is common for alcohol use disorders to co-occur with other mental health conditions, such as depressive disorders. Individuals with mental health conditions are at increased risk of also experiencing an alcohol or substance use disorder.

Woman drinking alcohol, struggling with depressionHowever, co-occurring issues can be difficult to diagnose and treat due to the complexity of symptoms from the overlapping conditions [2]. In many cases, one disorder may be more prominent than the other, which can overshadow the underlying disease that may also be present.

When it comes to depression, many individuals may inadvertently find ways to cope with the many symptoms they are experiencing as a result of this mental illness.

Because people with mental illness have increased susceptibility to substance abuse, alcohol use may become a means of coping with depressive behaviors.

Research has found that individuals who struggle with depression are approximately twice as likely also to have a substance use disorder compared with people without a mood disorder [3].

A person experiencing symptoms related to depression may turn to alcohol or engage in alcohol use behaviors as a means of escaping or coping with the overwhelming feelings being experienced.

Coping With Symptoms of Depression

The common symptoms of depression can be overwhelming to deal with, especially without support and resources for treatment.

While it is not unusual to experience period feelings of loneliness or sadness, clinical depression can result in much more severe symptoms that can lead to physical, emotional, mental, and psychological suffering.

Many individuals who are struggling with depression may not be aware of what they are experiencing, making it much harder to reach out for help and support.

Some of the symptoms associated with clinical depression may include the following:

  • Chronic feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and/or helplessness
  • Sleep changes, including insomnia and/or excessive sleeping
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating and decision-making
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that were once pleasurable
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Unexplainable physical pain, including headaches, digestive discomfort, aches, and pains
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Suicide and/or self-harm ideations or attempts

A person experiencing these symptoms of depression may find few things in their life that are effective at distracting them from their own pain and suffering.

Without professional help and intervention, substances, such as alcohol, can quickly become a tangible means of coping with something as painful as depression.

An individual struggling with depression may begin drinking as a way to numb their symptoms or simply as a temporary means of feeling better.

However, a more severe alcohol use disorder can develop when engaged in drinking for these purposes, and the symptoms of depression can be exacerbated by alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Use Disorders

Alcohol use that becomes difficult to control or problematic can escalate into an alcohol use disorder.

Woman drinking alcohol

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression and have turned to alcohol as a means of coping with this mental health condition, it is important to have an honest look at patterns involving drinking.

When alcohol is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was intended or is continually used despite negative consequences, it may be likely that a more severe alcohol problem has developed alongside the depression.

Because of the complex symptoms involved with co-occurring depression and alcohol use disorders, it is crucial to seek out professional help and treatment.

Connect with a treatment that offers specialized care for co-occurring disorders so that you are able to treat both conditions simultaneously and receive comprehensive care for healing and recovery.

Healing from both depression and alcohol use disorders is possible, and you can begin your journey today by reaching out for help.


About the Author:

Headshot of Roseann RookAs a Clinical Addictions Specialist, Roseann is responsible for conducting psycho-educational and process groups as well as providing individual counseling for addiction treatment including co-occurring disorders such as Eating Disorders and Mood Disorders at Timberline Knolls. She specializes in Process Addictions with a strong focus on Relationship Addictions.

Roseann was instrumental in the development of Timberline Knolls’ Addiction Program and the implementation of addressing Process Addictions into the curriculum. As a member of Timberline Knolls’ Clinical Development Institute, she has presented locally and at National conferences.

Roseann has worked in the addictions field since 1993, starting at Aunt Martha’s Youth Service as an addiction counselor moved on to counsel MISA clients at Grand Prairie Services followed by working for the YMCA Network for Counseling and Youth Development as an Addictions Counselor and Crisis worker. She returned to Grand Prairie Services for a brief stint to develop and implement an out-patient program before joining Timberline Knolls in 2006.


References:

[1]: Renee Y. Hsia, Matthew Niedzwiecki; Avoidable emergency department visits: a starting point, International Journal for Quality in Health Care, https://doi.org/10.1093/intqhc/mzx081
[2]: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Co-Occurring Disorders”, https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/co-occurring, Accessed 30 August 2017
[3]: Quello, S. B., Brady, K. T., & Sonne, S. C. (2005). Mood Disorders and Substance Use Disorder: A Complex Comorbidity. Science & Practice Perspectives, 3(1), 13–21.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 2, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 2, 2017.
Published on AddictionHope.com