Do already-depressed people use alcohol to self-medicate, or does alcohol actually make you depressed? Two new studies shed light on the question, examining the links between mood and alcoholism.
One made use of brain scanners, examining the working brains of alcoholics in treatment and prompting them to think about various neutral and relaxing or stressful situations. They found that when prompted to think about stressful situations, alcoholics who went on to relapse showed low activity in the area of brain that regulates mood and emotional arousal.
Another study interviewed people who were at a high risk of alcoholism to ask whether they drank “to alleviate mood symptoms” and then followed up with them two to four years later. Those who drank to improve their mood were three times more likely to become alcohol-dependent than those who didn’t use alcohol to lift their spirits. The study also found that those who were already dependent on alcohol and who drank to change their mood were less likely to have become sober.
These results may help physicians identify people who are especially likely to relapse or develop alcohol dependencies.
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