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Relation Among Alcohol, Stress, and Depression Studied


January 1995

A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health finds that moderate drinkers face less depression in the face of stressful life events (Robert I. Lipton, Ph.D., "The Effect of Moderate Alcohol Use on the Relationship between Stress and Depression," American Journal of Public Health, Dec. 1994, p. 1913-1917).

The study looked at data from the Los Angeles Epidemiological Catchment Area study, which gathers information on the rates of psychiatric disorders and the availability of treatment services. A sample of 928 white men and women were surveyed twice for stressful events in their lives (the death of a loved one, financial strain, marital problems, housing relocation, etc.) and about how they felt about their lives.

Researchers used an index that combined the answers to four questions to chart levels of alcohol use:

Lipton found a U-shaped pattern to the relation between alcohol use and depression. Light drinkers or teetotalers and heavy drinkers had higher depression scores in response to life strain than did the moderate drinkers.

In his conclusion, he writes that alcohol use may not act as a barrier between stress and mental illness, but moderate use may signal a more moderate attitude toward life in general. "It should be emphasized that this study did not consider alcohol consumption to be a response to stress, but as a typical element of a person's lifestyle. Thus, moderate drinkers may also do other things in moderation. This general behavior may be most important in affecting the relationship between stress and depression."