Boozing to Manage Mood

Alcohol dependence found in people who used alcohol to soothe mood disorder symptoms

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Using alcohol to cope with symptoms of a mental health issue can result in alcohol dependence. Short-term alcohol dependence can easily turn into long-term dependence.

In a recent study, a team of researchers interviewed people with mood disorders about their alcohol use.

The results of the study showed that the interviewed people were three times more likely to become alcohol dependent as a result of self-soothing with alcohol than people without a mood disorder.

"Seek a therapist, not a bottle."

Rosa M. Crum, MD, MHS, from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, led an investigation into the relationship between mood disorders and alcohol dependence.

Previous studies have shown that alcohol dependence frequently co-exists in people with mood disorders. According to the study authors, people with both alcohol dependence and a mood disorder tend to have more severe health problems and lower quality of life than people with just one of the conditions.

Mood disorders include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and dysthymia—a low grade, but constant form of depression.

According to the study authors, alcohol dependence in people with a mood disorder may be a result of self-medication. The act of self-medication occurs when a person uses alcohol or non-prescribed medications to soothe or ease the symptoms of a mood disorder.

For this study, the researchers used data from two waves of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NECARC). Individuals with a mood disorder from the NECARC population were contacted and interviewed face-to-face about his or her mood disorder and drinking habits.

The researchers interviewed 3,995 people in the first wave and 1,092 in the second wave.

The results of the study showed that people who self-medicated their mood disorder symptoms with alcohol were three times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and three and a half times more likely to sustain alcohol dependence over the long term compared to people without a mood disorder.

Overall, 12 percent of people with a mood disorder were found also to be alcohol dependent. And 31 percent of those people that were alcohol dependent had persistent long-term alcohol dependence.

The study authors concluded that drinking alcohol to affect symptoms of a mood disorder was associated with developing and sustaining alcohol dependence.

The authors recommended that mental health professionals look out for alcohol use to self-medicate mood disorder symptoms in order to prevent alcohol dependence in people in this high-risk group.

This study was published in May in JAMA Psychiatry.

This project was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a Manitoba Health Research Council Chair award. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 1, 2013
Last Updated:
November 6, 2013