February 12, 2013
Lay Off Prescriptions If Depression Is Caused By Heavy Drinking
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Researchers studied nearly 400 men for 30-years, who were 18-years-old at the beginning of the project. Nearly half of those involved in the study were at increased risk for drinking problems due to their fathers being alcoholics.
Over the three-decade-interval, nearly 41 percent of the men with alcoholic fathers developed alcohol abuse or dependence, and about 20 percent suffered at least one spell of major depression.
A third of men who have alcohol problems experienced symptoms of depression while they were drinking heavily.
Although links of heavy drinking spurring temporary episodes of depression have been found before, the new findings strengthen the past evidence, pointing out how common, and important it is to understand.
"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.
Researchers say it is important doctors pay close attention to problems with heavy drinking and symptoms of depression. Schuckit said depression caused by heavy drinking has a different prognosis and needs to be treated differently from other major depressive episodes that are not seen in the context of heavy drinking.
The study could actually be used by doctors to prescribe less antidepressants. Symptoms of independent and substance-induced depressions can look identical, but if the sadness is developed in the context of heavy drinking, the symptoms are likely to go away within several weeks to a month of abstinence, leaving out the need for antidepressants.
Schuckit said it is important for doctors to consider alcohol use disorders as a possible cause of depression symptoms, rather than just "reaching for the prescription pad" and recommending the patient take an antidepressant.
For some individuals, heavy drinking is a result of depression. However, the team found no evidence people with a history of major depression were at increased risk for developing alcohol problems in the future.
"If you're an alcoholic, you're going to have a lot of mood problems," Schuckit said. "And you may be tempted to say, 'Well, I drink a lot because I'm depressed.' You may be right, but it's even more likely that you're depressed because you drink heavily."
For those who might be experiencing problems with alcohol or depression, redOrbit reported a couple weeks ago about new apps for smartphones that could help you screen yourself. The Alcohol Abuse Predictor and The Depression Predictor apps use research-based questionnaires to help patients determine if they are at risk from these disorders. The apps are available for Android phones and will soon be on iOS devices as well.