FRIDAY, Sept. 4, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- While alcohol may be considered a depressant, teetotalers as well as heavy drinkers are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than moderate tipplers, a new study has found.
Norwegian and British researchers also found that people who don't drink report having fewer friends than drinkers do, a possible reason for their increased likelihood of being depressed.
"We see that this group is less socially well-adjusted than other groups," study co-author Dr. Eystein Stordal, an adjunct professor in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's neuroscience department, said in a university news release. "Generally when people are with friends, it is more acceptable in Western societies to drink than not to drink. While the questionnaire recorded non-drinkers' subjective perception of the situation, a number of other studies also confirm that teetotalers experience some level of social exclusion."
Another possible explanation, the researchers said, had to do with general health of the teetotalers.
"We found on average that there were more people with physical complaints among the non-drinkers than in the other groups," Stordal said. "These individuals are more likely to use medicines that mean they shouldn't drink. But it may also be true that having such an illness increases a person's tendency to be anxious or depressed."
The study, based on a survey of 38,000 Norwegians and published in the August online edition of the journal Addiction, found high levels of depression and anxiety even when it factored out people who abstained from drinking because of previous problems with alcohol. In all, roughly 17 percent of abstainers reported having anxiety and nearly 16 percent reported having depression.
The researchers also found that people who averaged only two drinks per week reported the fewest bouts with depression or anxiety.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about depression.