Shared Traits in Depression, Anxiety, and Alcohol Addiction

Rates of comorbid alcohol dependence with depression and anxiety are high. Extensive research has been conducted into this topic in an effort to determine how each of these conditions and risk factors for these conditions influence each other. Understanding the traits that could make a person more vulnerable to internalizing conditions such as depression or anxiety, or externalizing issues such as alcohol dependence, could also help improve interventions designed to address these comorbid psychological problems.

To get a better understanding of which personality traits are most common with each of these issues independently and together, Lynn Boschloo of the Department of Psychiatry and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research at the VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands recently led a study involving individuals with comorbid and pure conditions.

The participants included 32 individuals with alcohol dependence alone, 1,398 with anxiety and/or depression only, 358 with both alcohol and depression or anxiety, and 460 with no history of psychiatric illness. Boschloo looked at negative emotional states such as rumination, hopelessness, neuroticism, and worry. She also assessed impulsivity, thrill seeking, disinhibition, and boredom.

Boschloo found that even though some negative emotional states were moderately associated with the alcohol dependence only group, they were much stronger among the participants with comorbid alcohol dependence and anxiety/depression and the participants with anxiety/depression only. She also discovered that the negative emotional traits and the impulsive traits were entirely unrelated to one another, but did overlap in some participants. Further, the impulsive trait had only a weak association with alcohol dependence and depression/anxiety.

Boschloo believes that these results demonstrate the importance of personality in the development of these internalizing and externalizing conditions. Understanding how each of these individual traits influences psychological symptoms is a critical component in the design and delivery of treatments. For instance, interventions for depression/anxiety could focus on decreasing negative emotional traits while those targeting alcohol dependent individuals could strive to transform disinhibition.

Taken one step further, treatments aimed at reducing negative traits could benefit those with internalizing behaviors and alcohol dependence. “Similarly,” added Boschloo, “Interventions enhancing behavioural control might have an additional beneficial effect on depressive/anxiety symptoms.”

Boschloo, L., et al. (2013). The role of negative emotionality and impulsivity in depressive/anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence. Psychological Medicine 43.6 (2013): 1241-53. ProQuest. Web.

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  • E watson

    August 27th, 2013 at 8:54 PM

    Ican see how this must be related!depression pushes you into an abyss where you are not really concerned if something’s wrong.alcoholism brings in a similar disdain if there’s addiction.i hope understanding these nuances will help in better treatment for both these disorders.

  • Faith

    August 28th, 2013 at 3:47 AM

    It is pretty evident to me and I think to anyone who has watched a friend or family member struggle with addiction that there is generally another underlying issue at work. Be it dpression, anxiety, or any other number of mental health issues, there is always something else beneath the surface driving the monster that the rest of us may just see as addiction and abuse. Great job pointing this out, and maybe this will begin the dialogue and conversation that will get someone out there the help that he needs beginning today.

  • Ivan

    August 28th, 2013 at 9:08 PM

    Anxiety/depression and alcohol? They’re definitely related! One can push you to the other and its difficult making a comeback! There’s plenty of real life examples to back this and no evidence too.

    Any one sets in the risk for the other is definitely present and should be, preventing which should be something of a standard in treatment.

  • Jeanine

    August 29th, 2013 at 3:58 AM

    I wonder if you took away the alcohol if these same people who are depressed or anxious would then just turn to another drug of choice to medicate themselves against the pain, or if that, not having the drug, would simply make the problem go away. I tend to think that there would always be something else, they would seek out something else to medicate themselves, and to help them deal with the pain but that is only a suspicion. But I do believe that you take any group of people who all suffer and you will see a list of commonalities- the problems may be different on the outside, but if you go deepre, I think that there wuld be a lot of similarities there, which can definitely help with treatment plans and therapy.

  • alcohol rehab

    August 30th, 2013 at 5:52 AM

    Makes a lot of sense that alcohol dependence and depression would be linked. Alcohol addiction begins when the substance is used to escape – learning other methods to deal with negative emotions is key to successful recovery.

  • Bob

    September 1st, 2013 at 1:56 AM

    As an alcoholic suffering with depression, I can tell you that the drive to feel better never leaves. Even after rahabs, therapy, thousands of AA meetings, decades of sobriety I always used something to feel “better”. During my sobriety it could be coffee or cigarettes but there was always something. My depression did not appear until my early teens, but my first drunk was at age 7 and from that point on I was always trying to feel better. I hate sobriety so I do what I do best. I am a functioning alcoholic and while all the meetings and rehabs helped me to understand my disease, they did nothing to make me want to live sober. It’s hard for sober people to understand. My family has a long history of alcoholism and I am a firm believer in the genetics of it. Wish I had the answer for you but no one knows an alcoholic like himself.

  • Zach

    September 2nd, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    I watched my mother drink her way to an early death and like Bob states, I honestly think that a large part of her drinking was this urge to find a way to feel better. It’s not that she wasn’t happy with us or with her family, but there was just something there internally that wouldn’t let go and allow her to enjoy life the way that the rest of us do. Drinking was her medication so to speak and sadly enough it just sucked the life from her far too soon.

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