Overcoming Depression and Alcoholism | Everyday Health Help with alcoholism.
Because alcohol is a drug that is easy to get and is socially acceptable, many people choose to drink when they feel sad or anxious, or are having trouble getting to sleep. Using alcohol for some people can be a way of self-medicating, but though alcohol can make you feel better in small doses, the effect is only temporary.
The Downward Spiral of Depression and Alcoholism
"Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means that it slows down the body and the mind. In moderate to heavy amounts, it can make someone more depressed. If someone is already down, drinking alcohol will only increase the depression," explains Richard Shadick, PhD, director of the counseling center and adjunct professor in the psychology department at Pace University in New York City.
Symptoms of Depression and Alcoholism
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According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcoholism is defined by the following four symptoms:
Inability to stop: You lose control of how much you drink.
Tolerance: You need more alcohol to get high.
Common symptoms of depression experienced by people who abuse alcohol include intense sadness or hopelessness. Other signs of depression include changes in sleep or appetite, irritability, guilt, worthlessness, loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, and thoughts of suicide.
The Dangers of Depression and Alcoholism
When depression occurs with alcoholism or substance abuse, it is referred to as a "dual diagnosis." The main danger of the dual diagnosis is that when both depression and alcoholism are untreated, each illness makes the other worse. It is also important to recognize and address both conditions, because treating one without treating the other is unlikely to be effective.
The greatest danger of depression and alcoholism is suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the combination of depression and alcoholism causes more than 75 percent of all suicides. "In some people with depression, there is a strong link between alcohol and suicide," says Dr. Shadick. "For example, suicide deaths in college-aged individuals quite frequently involve alcohol abuse at the time of death. It is believed that alcohol impairs the depressed individual's ability to think clearly and they act impulsively on a wish to die and end their ongoing pain."
Treatment of Depression and Alcoholism
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The combination of depression and alcoholism is one of the most costly disorders affecting our health care system. A recent review of 44 controlled clinical trials regarding the use of antidepressant medications for the treatment of alcoholism and depression was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It concluded that antidepressant medications have benefits, but are not a stand-alone treatment. The best treatment for alcoholism and depression is a combination of addiction treatment, medication, and psychotherapy.
If you are struggling with depression and alcoholism, especially if you have had any thoughts of harming yourself, you need to get help. "There are highly effective forms of treatment for suicide, and any individual who feels suicidal should see a mental health professional as soon as possible," urges Shadick. Alcoholism and depression are a dangerous combination, but they are both highly treatable diseases and not moral weaknesses or character flaws.