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On Drinking, Smoking and Depression

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Alcohol and Depression:

Many of you may have read the news article about an animal study that found a causal link between ending drinking alcoholic beverages and the onset of depression. It’s important because, among other things, it may help explain why there is a high rate of relapse among those who drink and provide an intervention to prevent that relapse. Of course, further research needs to be done before any final decisions can be made about this animal study and how it applies to humans.

The research was conducted at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. In addition to a link between ending drinking and depression among mice used in the study, the research also found that new nerve cells or neurons were not being produced in a part of the brain called the hippocampus that is important for learning and memory. This failure to produce new neurons was caused by moderate amounts of alcohol intake.

According to Dr. Clyde W. Hodge at UNC, those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol for health benefits may very well experience depression, as well as diminished cognitive abilities.

Dr. Hodge and others state that using anti depressant medications to help people during their withdrawal from alcohol may help prevent relapse.

On the bright side of things, the researchers found that the brain’s ability to form new neurons is restored sometime after ending drinking.

Alcohol, smoking and coffee:

Studies done at Vanderbilt University found that 60% of those who attend Alcoholics Anonymous smoke cigarettes and most drink coffee. It is thought that coffee consumption is an attempt to overcome feelings of depression associated with withdrawal from alcohol.

Implications:

Now, here is important information that could have a lot of importance for those who want to recover from alcohol use, even if the use is moderate. It seems that coffee consumption does not impact the parts of the brain that are influenced by alcohol use. However, nicotine and alcohol interact with each other especially because they each impact the same types of neurons and addictive pathways. Remember, nicotine is an extremely addictive drug found in cigarettes at very high concentrations.

What does this mean?

1. Those who smoke and want to stop their alcohol use for any reason, whether alcoholism, health concerns, depression etc, should stop their cigarette smoking. Reason? Continued smoking leads to relapse. Coffee consumption does not cause alcohol relapse.

2. It is those who are prone to depression who are most likely to feel symptoms of depression when they stop their alcohol use, even if that use is no more than two or three glasses of wine per day. Psychotherapy and anti depressant medications are recommended, at least temporarily, to get passed those initial phases of no longer drinking.

3. What we know from behavioral psychology is that cues in the environment can trigger behaviors. Because smokers often smoke cigarettes after or during drinking coffee, they should probably stop coffee consumption as a way to help themselves stop smoking. It is an interesting set of conditioned behaviors. Cigarette smoking can trigger drinking in those recovering from drinking alcohol.

4. Basically, the addictions need to be treated together because they are clearly part of a complex pattern.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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