Do Alcoholics drink to self-medicate?

Research conducted over the past few decades has been instrumental in helping to identify why alcoholics drink, when to all around them they are clearly destroying themselves in one of the most painful ways imaginable.

Reports have shown that between 30 and 70 percent of all alcoholics suffer with underlying anxiety or depression, with women being seven times more likely than men to develop it in relation to alcohol. Of course alcohol addiction causes anxiety and also causes depression when not taken in moderate quantities, so with someone who is alcoholic, there is a chicken and egg question.

Which came first the alcohol or the depression?

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can lead to low moods and withdrawal can lead to symptoms of anxiety, but many alcoholics drink to counteract these feelings. In a sense the alcohol becomes the medicine for feelings such as anxiety, depression, boredom and insomnia. The relief is only temporary though until the alcohol wears off, the withdrawal effects will then heighten these feelings making the temptation to drink more, hard to resist.

Medical treatments

It is not uncommon for an alcoholic to be prescribed antidepressants by a GP or Psychiatrist. However unless the individual is able to stop drinking the antidepressants are likely to have little or no effect. In fact continuing to drink alcohol could increase side effects of the antidepressants, some of which include drowsiness, fatigue, mood swings, agitation and sexual problems. The individual may find themselves in a Catch 22 situation, where they cannot stop drinking, and therefore cannot treat their depression.

For anxiety it is not uncommon to be prescribed a mild sedative, however this again carries dangers if the individual cannot quit alcohol. Alcohol increases the effects of sedatives, making it more likely for the person to experience black outs and put themselves in dangerous situations. There is always the risk that they develop a secondary addiction to the tablets also as they are highly addictive.

Successful treatment

The only way to ensure that depression and anxiety are correctly treated and diagnosed is to remove the alcohol from the equation. Only then can an accurate diagnosis be made and appropriate treatment prescribed. It may mean that the person needs some help with stopping in the form of a medical detox, but in order for any treatment to be of maximum benefit, whether it be medicinal or therapy based, the alcohol must be removed first. The most successful treatment for these conditions not only comes in the form of medication but also in therapy, which is proven to be helpful to individuals suffering from anxiety or depression. Therapy can complement medicinal treatments, and as the individual recovers, the medication and therapy can gradually be withdrawn. If the individual has undergone therapy to address the contributing factors and triggers for their condition a relapse is less likely and a full recovery possible.

Alcohol help is available; seek help before it’s too late.


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