Drinking to cure depression may be a fruitless task, according to a new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
That's because alcohol intake was linked to causing depressive episodes - ones that are different, and perhaps worse, in nature than those that come from challenging life circumstances.
Alcohol linked to one-third of depressive episodes
The new research suggests that alcohol is responsible for about 30 percent of depressive episodes - a particular problem for individuals with alcohol use disorders who drink as a way to cope with mental health issues. And while doctors have long been aware of the link between booze and the blues, experts say that most people probably aren't entirely cognizant of how their drinking habits are affecting their feelings.
"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.
The study evaluated about 400 adult men, half who were at increased risk for alcoholism because of a family history of the disease. Over 30 years, 41 percent of the at-risk men developed troubled drinking patterns and 20 percent suffered at least one major episode of depression. But one-third of these episodes were seen to happen only when the men were drinking heavily - and in the absence of other traumatic life events.
Treatment needs differ
Schuckit notes that depression caused by heavy drinking should be treated much differently than circumstantial or episodic depression. Doctors, he says, ought to be more thorough in examining depression in patients so as to make accurate diagnoses for treatment; drugs aren't always necessary.
"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," said Schuckit.