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Drinking and depression are often connected. Women who are depressed may self-medicate using alcohol and women who drink too much are susceptible to depression. The combination presents specific challenges for the woman suffering from depression and alcohol abuse as well as for her caregivers.

What becomes even more of a challenge is the combination of drinking or abusing alcohol and depression in a woman who is pregnant or in the post-partum phase. Better understanding of the relationship between drinking and depression should help to create better diagnoses and treatments for women who need help, including for those who are pregnant or who have recently given birth.

Depression

Depression is a serious psychiatric disorder that can affect anyone at any age. Women who suffer from depression may feel hopeless, fatigued, uninterested in normal activities, and may even feel like causing herself harm. Depression can cause physical pains, difficulties with sleeping, low self-esteem and difficulty with concentration and focus.

Depression, and other disorders, can lead to self-medication. This means using something, typically a substance like alcohol, to either feel better or to suppress bad feelings. Too often this behavior leads to a worsening of the condition or to more problems, even addiction.

Alcohol Abuse and Dependence

Abuse of alcohol is characterized by several different factors. A woman who is abusing alcohol tends to drink more than she intended to and to drink in spite of problems that it causes, like relationship tension, legal troubles, hangovers, or missed time at work. The line between abuse and dependence varies depending upon who is defining these terms. However, dependence typically includes a tolerance to alcohol as well as physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal.

Women who drink too much often have problems in other areas of their lives as a result. A drinking problem can strain or break relationships, cause legal problems, or create difficulties at work. As a result, a woman with a drinking problem is at greater risk for developing psychiatric disorders, especially depression.

Alcohol and Depression

Although the coexistence of alcohol abuse and depression in women is not uncommon, it does make treatment more difficult. Women who suffer with both have a poorer prognosis for recovery. The problem is that most developed treatments are for dealing with each problem separately. The connection between the two of them, though, is intricate and requires special care. Much of the research that has been conducted on the subject has included male participants. More work must be done to determine how to best treat women with this particular comorbidity.

Alcohol and Depression During and After Pregnancy

A particular subset of women is especially at risk of developing serious problems where depression and drinking are concerned. Women who use alcohol during pregnancy or who exhibit signs of depression are at risk of developing even more severe problems later in life. Furthermore, the child’s development can be adversely affected.

A study by the Maternal Health Practices and Child Development Project followed a group of women during and after pregnancy for over 21 years. The researchers found that the women who showed any signs of depression or who drank at all were at a greater risk for alcohol abuse and depression during their first year after giving birth. The risk factors occurred at every stage of pregnancy rather than in one specific trimester.

That experiencing depression, abusing alcohol, or both during pregnancy can be harmful to both mother and child is not surprising. Outlining the evidence, though, gives a new sense of urgency to the need for better screening and care. Women who are pregnant are expected to see their obstetricians regularly throughout the pregnancy, but this care usually only addresses physical health.

There is a greater need to assess the mental health of women during pregnancy so that they can receive the necessary treatment. If pregnant women who struggle with depression and alcohol use can be identified early and treated, many problems could be avoided. Both the obvious health consequences can be avoided, as well as later issues with drinking and depression.

As depression and alcohol abuse in women continue to be researched and investigated, a better understanding of how to diagnose and treat women with these issues will develop. It is important to learn more about the connection between these problems and how they affect different women so that the best care can be used for prevention and treatment.

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