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Alcohol Use and Depression Among Young People: Study

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Adolescence or one’s teenage years are a time of significant change in a person’s life. Young men and women undergo biological, physiological, and neurological alterations that can be challenging. Those who are exposed to drugs and alcohol as teenagers are at a significant risk of experiencing problems in young adulthood.

Young people in high school are no strangers to parties and underage drinking. They also have few inhibitions and are apt to make reckless decisions, especially when under the influence. Some youths may not even know yet that they meet the criteria for mental illness; and, when drugs and alcohol become part of the picture, it can exacerbate their conditions.

Research has long associated alcohol use with depressive symptoms; alcohol is a central nervous system depressant after all. Many people who struggle with depression – both teens and adults – will turn to alcohol as a means of coping. It’s a practice that can lead to comorbidity; a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis is when a patient meets the criteria for both alcohol use disorder and a mental illness like depression.

When alcohol is introduced to a developing brain, there is no way to predict the outcome. Some youths will use the substance sparingly, at parties, for instance, whereas others may make a regular practice of drinking. The latter may also engage in hazardous ways of consuming alcohol, such as binge drinking.

Binge drinking occurs when a female consumes four alcoholic beverages or more in two hours. For men, binge drinking occurs at five drinks during the same length of time. Those who binge drink are at risk of “blackouts” and alcohol poisoning. Generalized impairment of neurocognitive function accompanies heavy alcohol use; young people under the influence are at a significant risk of injury.

Binge Drinking and Depression Amongst Young People

While scientists have correlated binge drinking and depressive symptoms in young people for some time, new research paints a different picture. Researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health published a study that upends traditional thinking on the above subject.

A team of researchers analyzed data from 1991 to 2018 and found that binge drinking alcohol among U.S. adolescents significantly declined, according to Public Health Now. However, the findings indicate that since 2012, depressive symptoms among U.S. adolescents have dramatically risen.

The former is good news, and the latter is cause for concern. Still, perhaps the salient finding is that the researchers could no longer associate binge drinking and depressive symptoms among adolescents.

Comorbidity of depression and drinking is among the bedrocks of psychiatric epidemiology findings—until now. Our results suggest that we need to be re-thinking the connections between mental health and alcohol among young people,” said Katherine M. Keyes, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman.

Like many studies of this type, Dr. Keyes and colleagues utilized Monitoring the Future surveys. They look at responses from 58,444 school-attending 12th-grade adolescents to reach their conclusions.

The connection between depressive symptoms (i.e., agreeing with the statement “life is meaningless” or “life is hopeless”) and binge drinking decreased by 16 percent from 1991 to 2018 and 24 percent among girls and 25 percent among boys, the article reports. The findings suggest the relationship between binge drinking and depressive symptoms is decoupling. Dr. Keyes found that:

The declining correlation between binge drinking and mental health is occurring during a time of unprecedented decreases in alcohol consumption among U.S. adolescents and increases in mental health problems. Therefore, the relationship between substance use and mental health may need to be reconceptualized for ongoing and future research.”

Alcohol Use and Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment for Young Men

If you are a young man who is struggling with alcohol use disorder, depression, or both, then please contact PACE Recovery Center. We specialize in gender-specific addiction and mental health treatment for men.

Our team of masters and doctorate-level clinicians can help you or a loved one break the disease cycle and begin a life-changing journey of recovery. We utilize evidence-based therapies to treat each presenting behavioral and mental health disorder simultaneously.

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