NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who drink to cope with the blues are more prone to becoming depressed and at greater risk of alcohol dependence, a new study shows.
The study team sought to determine whether drinking to manage mood might be related to both alcoholism and depression by looking at 5,181 twins aged 30 and older. Twin studies allow scientists to tease out the effects of environment and genes on certain traits.
Kelly C. Young-Wolff of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and her colleagues found that drinking to manage mood was strongly inherited and accounted for basically all of the genetic and environmental influences shared by depression and alcohol dependence.
Males were more likely than females to use alcohol to manage their moods.
The relationship between self-medication with alcohol and depression also was stronger in men. This may because it’s more “socially acceptable” for women to seek help for emotional problems, the researchers note.
The findings shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that drinking to cope with mood causes depression or alcoholism, Young-Wolff and co-investigator Dr. Carol Prescott noted in an email to Reuters Health, but they do show that people who do this may be vulnerable to these problems.
“We would suggest that occasional use of alcohol to relax or unwind is not necessarily a bad idea,” they add.
“What should be avoided is heavy drinking as a regular coping strategy, since this can lead to other problems and is often a means of avoiding dealing with the issues that are contributing to the negative emotions,” they say.
SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, August 2009.