Is the relationship between major depressive disorder and self-reported alcohol use disorder an artificial one?

Alcohol Alcohol. 2015 Mar;50(2):195-9. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agu103. Epub 2014 Dec 29.


Aims: Many studies have suggested a close relationship between alcohol use disorder (AUD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). This study aimed to test whether the relationship between self-reported AUD and MDD was artificially strengthened by the diagnosis of MDD. This association was tested comparing relationships between alcohol use and AUD for depressive people and non-depressive people.

Methods: As part of the Cohort Study on Substance Use Risk Factors, 4352 male Swiss alcohol users in their early twenties answered questions concerning their alcohol use, AUD and MDD at two time points. Generalized linear models for cross-sectional and longitudinal associations were calculated.

Results: For cross-sectional associations, depressive participants reported a higher number of AUD symptoms (β = 0.743, P < 0.001) than non-depressive participants. Moreover, there was an interaction (β = -0.204, P = 0.001): the relationship between alcohol use and AUD was weaker for depressive participants rather than non-depressive participants. For longitudinal associations, there were almost no significant relationships between MDD at baseline and AUD at follow-up, but the interaction was still significant (β = -0.249, P < 0.001).

Conclusion: MDD thus appeared to be a confounding variable in the relationship between alcohol use and AUD, and self-reported measures of AUD seemed to be overestimated by depressive people. This result brings into question the accuracy of self-reported measures of substance use disorders. Furthermore, it adds to the emerging debate about the usefulness of substance use disorder as a concept, when heavy substance use itself appears to be a sensitive and reliable indicator.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Self Report*
  • Switzerland / epidemiology
  • Young Adult