Alcohol use disorder and depression are two conditions that often occur together. What’s more, one can make the other worse in a cycle that’s pervasive and problematic if not addressed and treated.

Alcohol use can cause or worsen symptoms of mood disorders. Depression may even cause people to begin consuming large amounts of alcohol.

The good news is that treating both alcohol misuse and depression can make both conditions better. As one improves, symptoms of the other may improve, too.

It isn’t, however, a quick and easy process. It’s often a lifelong commitment, but one that can improve your life, health, and well-being in the long term.

Depression is a mood disorder. It can cause feelings of sadness, anger, loss, and emptiness.

People with depression frequently lose interest in activities that once brought them joy like hobbies and social events. They may struggle to complete daily tasks.

Depression is fairly common. More than 300 million people experience depression worldwide.

Individuals with alcohol use disorder may drink too much alcohol, too often. They may be unable to stop drinking once they begin.

If not treated, alcohol use disorder can become a life-long struggle. Almost 30 percent of Americans will experience alcohol use disorder at some point in their lifetimes.

Alcohol may be a form of self-medication for people with depression. The “burst” of energy from alcohol can be a welcome relief against some symptoms. For example, alcohol may temporarily reduce anxiety and lower inhibitions.

However, the flip side is that people who frequently use alcohol are more likely to also be depressed. Drinking a lot may worsen these feelings, which may actually drive further drinking.

Individuals with mental health conditions may be more likely to use alcohol as a treatment. Several studies suggest that military veterans are more likely to experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and misuse alcohol.

Major depression and alcohol use disorder are also co-dependent in women, research suggests. Women with depression are also more likely to engage in binge drinking.

Previous trauma is also a risk factor for alcohol misuse and depression. This is true for adults as well as children and young adults. Children who have major depression as a child may drink earlier in life, according to one study.

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • feeling worthless
  • sadness
  • fatigue
  • loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • lack of energy to complete daily tasks
  • difficulty concentrating
  • guilt
  • substance use
  • suicidal thoughts

Symptoms of alcohol use disorder might include:

  • drinking too much in any one episode
  • drinking frequently, even daily
  • continually craving alcohol
  • sneaking alcohol so others won’t observe it
  • continuing to drink despite negative consequences, both to physical health and personal relationships
  • avoiding activities to drink
  • continued drinking despite symptoms of depression or a mood disorder

It’s not clear which comes first: depression or alcohol misuse. Each person’s experience is different, but having one of the conditions increases the risk for the other.

For example, a person with frequent episodes of severe depression may turn to drinking to self-medicate. That can worsen alcohol misuse. People who frequently drink are more likely to experience episodes of depression, and they may drink more in an attempt to feel better.

Some elements that may contribute to one or both of these conditions include:

  • Genetics. People with a family history of either condition may have a higher risk. Research suggests a genetic predisposition may make you more likely to experience depression or alcohol use disorder.
  • Personality. It’s believed that people with a “negative” outlook on life may be more likely to develop either condition. Likewise, people who experience low self-esteem or difficulty with social situations may be more likely to develop depression or an alcohol use disorder.
  • Personal history. People who have experienced abuse, trauma, and relationship problems may be more likely to be depressed or misuse alcohol.

Your doctor will likely conduct a physical exam and a psychological evaluation. These tests help them calculate your risk factors for either condition. This multi-test approach will help them rule out other conditions that might account for your symptoms.

Likewise, if you’re diagnosed with one of these conditions, your doctor may ask about symptoms of the other. This is a common part of diagnosis because both so frequently occur together.

help for depression or alcohol MISuse

Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can help you find treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations in your area.

Treating one of these conditions may improve symptoms for both. However, for the best results, your doctor will likely treat them together.

The most common treatments for alcohol misuse and depression together include:

Medication

Alcohol can significantly impact the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain, making depression worse. Antidepressants can help even levels of these chemicals and can help relieve symptoms of depression.

In addition, your doctor may prescribe medicines that are meant to lower alcohol cravings, which can reduce your desire to drink.

Rehabilitation

Individuals with alcohol use disorder often develop a physical dependency on alcohol. Quitting suddenly can cause symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening.

Many doctors recommend patients check into a rehabilitation facility. These clinics can help someone go through the withdrawal process with medical supervision.

You may undergo therapy to address your depression, too. During therapy, you can learn coping mechanisms that can help you return to life without drinking.

Therapy

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy. It helps people understand events and thought processes that lead to depression and substance misuse.

CBT can teach you ways to modify your thoughts and behavior to feel better and help you avoid misusing alcohol.

Support groups

Alcoholics anonymous (AA) and alcohol treatment centers offer classes and support group meetings. In these, you can also find support from others in the same situation.

You can also find regular reinforcement for changes you’re making to stay sober and healthy.

when to seek help

These signs of major depression or alcohol use disorder may indicate you need help from a doctor or other healthcare professional:

  • suicidal thoughts
  • an inability to perform daily tasks because you have too little energy or drink too much
  • continually drinking or craving alcohol
  • continuing to drink despite losing a job, ending relationships, losing money, or other negative effects

If you’re having thoughts of suicide or wanting to harm yourself, call 911 or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for immediate help.

Having both depression and an alcohol use disorder is common. Alcohol use issues can cause or worsen symptoms of depression. At the same time, people with depression may attempt to self-medicate with alcohol.

Treating both will help ease symptoms of both. However, not treating both can make the conditions worse. That’s why your doctor or psychologist will work with you to create a treatment approach that addresses both issues.

Though it may take time, treatment will help change these behaviors and ease symptoms so you can lead a healthier life.