A recent study by Dr. Carolyn A. McCarty of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and her colleagues published in General Hospital Psychiatry has shown a clear link between obesity, depression, and alcoholism in women. The study investigated 393 men and 383 women at ages 24, 27, and 30, looking at their weight, alcohol usage and depression over the course of one year. In women, both alcoholism and obesity were linked with depression, while there was no connection in men.
The Results of the Study
It was shown that women who had alcohol disorders at the age of 24 were almost four times as likely to be obese at 27. Women who were obese at age 27 where found twice as likely to be depressed at age 30. Moreover, women who were depressed at the age of 27 were more than three times as likely to have an alcohol problem at age 30. The study also showed that lower income individuals of both sexes were at an increased risk of both depression and obesity. The people in the study had been followed since 1985 (when they were in fifth grade) and were interviewed at the ages of 24, 27, and 30.
While it isn’t known why there are links between alcoholism, obesity and depression in women and not in men, it has been suggested there are both sociological and biological factors. Alcohol itself is a depressant. Most drinkers experience an initially buoyant mood, but eventually the mood plummets into a depressed state. Another risk factor for these problems is the tendency for ruminative coping, which is when a person obsesses and thinks over negative events in their lives. People who ruminate are more often depressed and more likely to drink or binge eat as a coping mechanism.
Breaking the Cycle
Another link is the way people use eating and drinking as reward mechanisms, either to congratulate themselves for a job well done, or as a way of making themselves feel better at the end of a hard day. People need to re-wire their thinking processes so as to break the link and create new reward structures that don’t involve food or alcohol.
Dr. Cindy Haines for Healthday TV suggests that women need to get empowered in their lives. By limiting alcohol, developing a healthy relationship with food and enjoying regular exercise and stress reduction activities, there is no need to fall into a spiral of depression linked to obesity and alcoholism. It is helpful to be aware of the links, so as not to fall prey to the temptation of alcohol as a stress reliever or pick-me-up at the end of a hard day.
In order to tackle the link between depression, obesity and alcohol use, women need to develop new coping and reward mechanisms. This means finding different ways of coping when they feel depressed (not turning to either alcohol or food), and avoiding alcohol as a way of “relaxing” at the end of the day. Knowing where the problems occur is the first step in breaking the cycle.