Survey Says: Drinkers Are Less Depressed

Illustration for article titled Survey Says: Drinkers Are Less Depressed

Norwegian scientists have found that those who abstain from drinking are at a higher risk of suffering from depression than the "moderate drinkers." Lushes, we assume, must be thrilled at the news.


Researchers used data from the Nord-Trondelag Health study that included information about the drinking habits and mental health of more than 38,000 participants. They found that those who reported no alcohol consumption during a two-week period were more likely to report depression than moderate drinkers (defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as drinking no more than one drink a day for women, and no more than two for men. Of course, standards may be different in Norway).

The highest risk for depression was found among the group who called themselves "abstainers." Researchers are not sure how to explain this. Indeed, it seems strange that depression would be found among those who do not self medicate with alcohol. We have become used to associating alcoholism with depression, so it is surprising to have abstinence linked to mental illness as well. Researchers also found that 14% of the abstainers had previously been heavy drinkers, which kind of makes sense, but does not explain the connection for the other 86%. The only explanation suggested by the authors of the study is that, in societies where drinking is common, even normal, abstinence may be associated with the socially marginalized, or with particular personality traits that are associated with depression.

But all hope is not lost for the non-drinking depressed folk: Some scientists believe that depression may serve an evolutionary function. Various studies have found that people in a depressed mood are better at solving problems, both social and mathematical. An article published last week in Scientific American expounds on the theory that the tortuous ruminations that characterize the severely depressed may in fact aid in problem solving. The critical thinking involved in depression may have lead our brains to evolve with a predisposition toward sadness. "The capacity to feel presumably helps us solve problems and survive, and is essential for group living, and perhaps inconsolable depression is simply emotional baggage that tags along with the good stuff. Or maybe unhappiness and a tendency towards suicide is the product of the uncontrolled nature of our quicksilver minds," wrote Meredith Small in an article for LiveScience last year.

Alcohol Abstinence Linked To Depression [UPI]
Why Did Evolution Produce Depression [LiveScience]
Depression's Evolutionary Roots [Scientific American]


I have one friend who completely abstains from alcohol. He was a big lush in college, and going without alcohol seems to be part of a "life makeover" that also involves giving up meat and taking up yoga. He also doesn't watch television.

I'm not saying you need to drink, eat meat, and spend all your time in front of the TV in order to be happy. But at least in my friend's case, abstaining from alcohol seems to be part of an effort to have complete control over his actions at all times, and also to lead a virtuous life, where "virtuous" = "not doing anything that anyone perceives as bad for you, ever". So I wonder if there is some correlation between abstaining from alcohol and having extremely strict behavioral standards for yourself. Because that seems like a recipe for depression, given that most people need a chance to relax and just give in to the moment every now and then, whether with sex, alcohol, drugs, or an episode of America's Next Top Model.