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What You Need to Know About Alcohol and Depression

Depression Often Goes Hand-in-Hand With Alcohol Use


Updated May 16, 2014

Stressed woman holding alcoholic drink
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Occurrence and Statistics

In the past 15 years, the number of people seeking treatment for depression in the U.S. has doubled; now 25 million a year. That’s bad news, but what is worse is that according to recent research, 90% of these people left their doctor’s offices with a prescription for antidepressants. It is downright frightening that prescription drugs have become the treatment of choice.
{“Hard to Swallow,” WC Douglass e-mail, March 28, 2003}

Americans, 65 and older account for about 13 percent of the population but almost 20% of all suicides. The national rate is 11 suicides for every 100,000 people. This is higher than any other age group, and the attempts are strikingly lethal: one out of four succeed compared to one out of 200 for young adults. The graying baby boomers are already more prone to suicide than other generations.
{"Factors behind elderly suicide rate examined," Washington, The Daily Progress newspaper, Charlottesville, Virginia, July 23, 2002}

Depression affects 17 million Americans a year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
{Washington Post Health, Oct 7, 1997}

One in four women will have a severe or major depression in their lifetime. For men it is one in eight. People who have depression shouldn't drink alcohol.
{in the book, “Depression,” by Sherry Rogers, MD}

In any given one-year period, 9.5% of the population, or about 18.8 million Americans suffer from a depressive illness.

35 million Americans each year suffer from SAD according to JAMA.
{Energy Times, Jan. 1998} Alcohol makes this worse.

One in five Americans are depressed or unhappy, and report high levels of stress, anxiety and sadness.
{Reuters Health, HealthCentral.com - Nov. 2000}

Physiological Effects of Alcohol - Role in Depression

Alcohol has been found to lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels.
{"Food and Mood," Natural Medicine Chest, Conquer Depression Without Drugs, Let's Live magazine, Jan. 2000}

"Alcohol is a depressant. People with depression shouldn't drink alcohol", says Sherry Rogers, MD, in her 1997 book on "Depression." She says that studies show that doctors miss diagnosing over 66% of the people who are depressed.

Alcohol temporarily blunts the effects of stress hormones. It typically leaves you feeling worse than ever because it depresses the brain and nervous system. One study looked at people who consumed one drink a day. After three months abstinence, their scores on standard depression inventories improved.
{The Brain, "You Can Control Your Emotional Wellness," USA WEEKEND, Jan. 3, 1999, Jim Thorton, health reporter}

People with manic-depressive disorder should not drink alcohol.
{James F. Balch, MD, newspaper columnist and radio broadcaster, 1990}

Although important for all ages, in older people folic acid deficiency contributes to aging brain processes and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Depression is also common in those with folate deficiency.
{British Medical Journal, 2002} Andrew Weil, in his Self Healing newsletter (Jan. 2000) tells us alcohol use can lower levels of folic acid. The presence of alcohol hastens the breakdown of antioxidants in the blood, speeding their elimination from the body.

The acute depressant effect of alcohol increases with BAC, and has been measured in terms of its effects on human performance at BACs as low as 0.03.
{“Alcohol Effects on People,” U.S. Department of Transportation (HHTSA), Alcohol and Highway Safety, 2001, Dec. 2002}. Author’s comments: The BAC level of 0.03 can be obtained form one or two alcoholic beverages.

Depression and Alcohol Problems Go Together

When alcohol wears off, you will be more depressed than ever.
{Ann Landers' to readers, Dec. 5, 1993, as well as many other medical sources}

Depression and alcohol problems often go together, but the evidence suggests that in men alcohol use preceded the depression, whereas in women the depression precedes the alcohol use.
{American Journal of Epidemiology, "Study Links Depression and Alcohol Problems," Washington Post Health, Dec. 16, 1997}

Gene/Environment Interaction

Stress, or drugs such as alcohol or cocaine, can activate a gene that is linked to depression and other mental problems. The result can give rise to seizures, depression, manic-depressive episodes and a host of mental problems, says Robert Post, chief of the biological psychiatry branch of the National Institute of Health (NIH).
{Washington Post Health, Aug. 31, 1993}

We find that men suffer depression about equal to women, when the choice of alcohol is removed, as in their culture or religion. This is quite dramatic in showing us how critical our environment is in shaping how our genes are expressed. When under stress, women exhibit more depression and anxiety disorders: men exhibit more alcoholism, antisocial behavior and criminality.
{Public TV special, "The Secret of Life," with David Suzuki, Nov. 1993}

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