Alcoholism is a disease that is complex and often difficult to treat because of the fact that it can have so many causes. When a person is addicted to alcohol, their brain's reward center becomes so accustomed to receiving the pleasurable feelings associated with consuming alcohol that the brain becomes entirely fixated on drinking.
Many people may also be genetically predisposed to a tendency toward addiction. In addition to the genetic and chemical components of addiction, there are a number of environmental factors that can increase a person's tendency toward alcohol, including exposure to alcohol in childhood, or the experience of a trauma of some kind. Yet another factor that seems to heavily impact a person's likelihood of developing an alcohol addiction is whether they also suffer from depression.
Most psychologists and therapists agree that there is a strong link between depression and alcoholism.
What Comes First, the Depression or the Alcoholism?
One thing that makes depression and alcoholism so closely correlated is the fact that one seems to compound the severity of another. When a person is depressed, they may suffer from a low self image and have a hard time understanding their purpose in the world.
They may become lethargic, socially anxious, and feel less compelled to engage in the activities that they once enjoyed. Often, depression is very painful, as a person may feel consumed with anger or sadness when they are depressed.
These feelings can be so uncomfortable that a depressed person attempts to "self medicate" by drinking alcohol in order to dull the pain of the emotions they're feeling. It is often also the case that a person who is suffering from alcoholism will become depressed.
Alcoholism is a disease that often makes a person experience strong feelings of guilt, shame, and anger. When a person is addicted to alcohol, they are frequently out of control of their actions and may do or say things that they would never otherwise do if they were sober.
This can lead to feelings of regret, which are tied to depression and a low self image. In this way, alcohol and depression are two diseases that essentially feed on another.
Treating Co-Existing Disorders
When a person suffers from both alcoholism and depression, they are said to be suffering from co-existing disorders. This means that they should undergo treatment that addresses both disorders if they are to begin to feel happy and healthy again.
Alcoholism and depression are generally treated at the same time in treatment, because in order for an addict to have the strength and confidence to recover, they must also have the energy and self image that comes with not suffering from debilitating depression. Like alcoholism, depression can have many causes. Some people may be genetically predisposed to depression, or simply have a chemical make up that makes them prone to be depressed.
Some people suffer from depression as a result of environmental factors, many people suffer from depression as a result of the combination of the two. When a person is in treatment, they will work with doctors and counselors who can help them to work through all of the important relationships in their life and to identify the factors they may have contributed to their depression and their alcoholism.
Once a recovering addict begins to do this, they can be more aware of the beliefs and thought processes that are leading them to engage in destructive behaviors, and find healthy alternatives. This is one of the many reasons that entering rehab and making the decision to get healthy is a truly life changing experience.