Depression, Obesity, Alcohol Abuse Linked in Young Women
Depression, obesity and alcohol abuse are often treated as discrete disorders.
But a new study shows that, for women under the age of 30, those three conditions may be interrelated — meaning treating all three may be key to overcoming any of them.
Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) found that almost half of the 776 adults they tracked during the study met the criteria for one of those conditions at each of the observed ages of 24, 27 and 30.
“The proportion of people with all three of these conditions at any one point is small,” said Carolyn McCarty, the study’s lead author and a UW research associate professor of pediatrics and psychology.
“For women, there is a great deal of overlap between these common emotional and health problems that span early adulthood,” McCarty said. “Men may develop one of these conditions, but they don’t tend to lead to another one later on.”
The UW study revealed the following about women, alcohol, obesity and depression:
- Women with an alcohol disorder at age 24 were more than three times as likely to be obese when they were 27.
- Women who were obese at 27 were more than twice as likely to be depressed when they were 30.
- Women who were depressed at 27 were at increased risk for alcohol disorders at 30.
The research did not point to any step-by-step progression from one disorder to another, but McCarty said clinicians treating women with one of the listed conditions should be aware that patients might develop another disorder.
“These conditions are major public health problems,” she said. “They take a toll on families and community, and are not subject to quick fixes. It requires a lot of time, money and energy to treat them.”
Alcoholism and Obesity
McCarty pointed to two reasons why women with an alcohol disorder at 24 years old were more likely to be obese at 27:
The caloric intake associated with drinking alcohol may increase metabolic processes leading to weight gain, or there may be an underlying connection to levels of dopamine in the reward pathway in the brain because the same pathways reward both food and alcohol intake.
Some people substitute alcohol for food, leading to obesity.
Obesity and Depression
The link between obesity at 27 years old and depression at 30 years old is body image, according to McCarty.
“Body image is particularly important for women. There seems to be a transfer that when women feel bad, they eat more,” she said. “That can have devastating effects emotionally and physically.”
The study found that the reverse is true for men: Obesity actually offers some men protection against developing depression later on.
“It’s the so-called ‘jolly fat man’ theory, which suggests that overweight people are actually happier,” McCarty said.
Depression and Alcoholism
When it comes to the link between depression and alcohol abuse, the two may be related to stress.
“People who feel more emotionally down may use alcohol for a quick lift or a short-term boost,” McCarty said. “The two conditions may be connected by an underlying stress mechanism. Stress is linked to depression, so women under stress potentially eat and drink more.
Obesity and Income
The study also found that people with higher incomes were at lower risk for obesity. That is often because many of the least nutritional items are inexpensive, and low income areas don’t have the same access to fresh fruit and vegetables that higher income areas have.
“It costs more to eat well,” McCarty said.
Treating All Three Disorders
The best way to keep these disorders at bay is through early prevention, including stress management and family support.
“Early prevention is important because the sooner we start, the more impact we can have,” McCarty said. “Interventions should include stress management so we can provide young people with tools to cope with situations and emotions. We also need to explore underlying factors that predispose people to these conditions, such as a family background that is not supportive or is toxic.”
People who do find themselves dealing with depression, obesity and alcohol abuse, together or in any combination, can get the help they need through residential treatment centers. Residential treatment centers have the resources and mental health professionals needed to help patients overcome each of those disorders at one time, while addressing any underlying emotional disorders.
Dealing with just one of those disorders is not easy. Dealing with all three can leave you feeling out of control. Get the help you need today by calling a residential treatment center that can help you overcome your disorders and get your life back.