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Research Summary

Alcohol Dependence and Major Depressive Episodes in the General Population

Alcohol dependence (AD) and major depression often coexist. To examine the association between AD and major depressive episodes (MDEs) in the general population, researchers analyzed interview data from 72,940 people aged 12 and older who participated in the Canadian National Population Health Survey.

Of participants with MDEs, 9% had comorbid AD (compared with 2% without MDE). Of participants with AD, 20% reported having at least one MDE (compared with 4% without AD). In analyses adjusted for sex, educational level, and employment, researchers found that

  • people under age 25 and those who were single, divorced, separated, or widowed were more likely to have both comorbid AD/MDE and pure AD;
  • people with a low family income, living with a non-intact family (e.g., children living without 2 parents and any siblings), and non-whites were more likely to have comorbid AD/MDE but not pure AD;
  • immigrants were less likely to have comorbid AD/MDE or pure AD.

Those with comorbidity were much more likely than those with pure AD to use mental health services in the past year (47% versus 8%, respectively).


In addition to confirming that alcohol dependence and major depressive episodes often coexist, this study identified risk factors for comorbidity. These risk factors can help clinicians identify patients in greatest need of mental health services, and hopefully increase receipt of appropriate care.

Jeffrey H. Samet, MD, MA, MPH


Wang JL, El-Guebaly N. Sociodemographic factors associated with comorbid major depressive episodes and alcohol dependence in the general population. Can J Psychiatry. 2004;49(1):37–44.
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