While a subset of depressed patients are believed to "self-medicate" their depression with alcohol, there are no studies comparing the phenomenological and diagnostic characteristics of patients with primary depression and secondary alcoholism with those of patients with depression or alcoholism alone. In this study, we compared 11 patients from each of these three diagnostic groups in terms of past history and current clinical presentation. The patients were matched for age, sex, and level of function. Comorbid patients were most likely to meet criteria for sedative dependence and panic disorder, and had higher scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Scale. In addition, they scored higher on a hypomania scale and had more first-degree relatives with a history of drug abuse.