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Alcohol and Depression

Depression and alcohol frequently occur together, as individuals often turn to alcohol to cope with their mental health challenges. However, excessive drinking can exacerbate depression symptoms, leading to additional issues such as addiction, cognitive decline, and even suicidal ideation.

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How Alcohol Abuse Impacts Depression

Depression and alcohol abuse often go hand in hand, with one exacerbating the symptoms of the other.

Alcohol abuse can potentially increase depression by affecting a person’s physical and mental well-being.

Examples of alcohol’s impact on depression include:

  • Brain chemistry and mood: Since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it can make symptoms of depression worse. Although the first few drinks make you feel good and more relaxed, the shift in brain chemistry can ultimately lead to increased feelings of depression.
  • Physical health: Excessive drinking (i.e., heavy drinking, binge drinking) can also cause negative impacts on a person’s physical health, such as weight gain, which can lower the person’s self-image and worsen depression.
  • Current medications: Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of antidepressant medications, potentially leading to a vicious cycle of alcohol abuse and depressive episodes.

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This helpline offers free, 24/7, confidential support to anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or other mental health-related distress.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression is a treatable mental illness associated with persistent sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities.

Also known as major depression or severe depression, this mental condition can affect a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and overall functioning.

However, depression is NOT a sign of weakness or a personal failing.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 10-15% of people will experience major depressive disorder (i.e., clinical depression) at some point—making it the most prevalent psychiatric condition.

If you notice any of these signs, seek help from a mental health professional.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Thoughts of self-harm, including suicidal ideation
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Physical discomfort (e.g., joint pain, muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems)

It’s important to note that everyone experiences depression differently, and the severity and combination of symptoms can vary from person to person.

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AUD and Depression as Co-Occurring Disorders

The NIAAA found that among individuals getting treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder, a significant 33% also meet the criteria for major depressive disorder.

Several factors can contribute to the development of both alcohol abuse and depression, including:

  • Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition that makes them more susceptible to developing depression and alcohol use disorder.
  • Stress and trauma: Chronic stress and traumatic experiences can trigger the onset of depression and alcohol abuse. For instance, someone who has gone through a traumatic event may start drinking to cope with guilt, shame, and anxiety.
  • Social and environmental factors: Poverty, lack of social support, and exposure to violence and crime can increase the risk of depression and alcohol abuse.

Understanding the relationship between alcohol abuse and depression is vital for anyone who wants to manage their mental health and well-being.

Alcohol-Induced Depression

Alcohol-Induced Depression is a temporary condition that occurs as a result of alcohol’s impact on brain chemistry—and can develop after heavy drinking or after a period of chronic alcohol abuse.

It can have symptoms similar to other forms of depression, the difference being that alcohol-induced depression typically improves once a person stops drinking (after three to four weeks of abstinence).

In some cases, however, it can progress into a more severe, long-term depressive disorder that requires professional treatment.

Some of the symptoms of alcohol-induced depression include:

  • Low mood; feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt
  • Reduced interest in activities or hobbies
  • Lack of energy; feeling tired and sluggish
  • Changes in sleep patterns (i.e., insomnia or hypersomnia)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on one task at a time
  • Thoughts of suicide

Managing Depression

A combination of self-care, therapy, and medication plays a significant role in managing depression. Work with a mental health professional to determine the best treatment plan.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 10-15% of people will experience major depressive disorder (i.e., clinical depression) at some point—making it the most prevalent psychiatric condition.

Medications for Depression

Medications can be vital in managing the symptoms of depression, especially when combined with therapy. Many of these medications affect specific neurotransmitters in the brain, helping to balance mood.

The most common types of antidepressants for depression are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Increases serotonin levels in the brain to help regulate mood (e.g., Prozac®, Zoloft®, Lexapro®)
  • Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): Stops the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine, which allows for a higher concentration of these mood-boosting chemicals (e.g., Effexor®, Cymbalta®)
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): Stops the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine, which allows for a higher concentration of these mood-boosting chemicals (e.g., Elavil®, Tofranil®)
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): Blocks the enzyme that breaks down serotonin and norepinephrine, allowing more steady mood regulation (e.g., Emsam®, Marplan®)
  • Atypical Antidepressants: Potentially a good option for people who have not responded to other forms of medication (e.g., Wellbutrin®)

Therapy for Depression

Also known as talk therapy or psychotherapy, this part of depression treatment involves working with a mental health professional to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to depression.

It can be a safe and supportive space where you can explore your feelings and experiences, work towards a better understanding of your condition—and develop effective coping skills.

Common therapy styles used to treat depression include:

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Treating Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a medical condition associated with excessive drinking that interferes with daily life and causes harm to physical and mental health.

It can range from mild to severe, with its diagnosis based on the frequency and amount of alcohol consumption—and related symptoms such as craving, withdrawal, and tolerance.

There are various treatment options available for AUD, including:

  • Detoxification: During detox, the body removes all traces of alcohol from its system and manages withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision. It is usually the first step in addiction treatment.
  • Medications: Medications such as naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram can help reduce cravings and prevent relapse.
  • Rehabilitation programs: Alcohol treatment programs provide structured support for alcohol addiction through inpatient or outpatient programs. They offer a range of therapies, support groups, and activities to help you build life skills and make a lasting recovery.
  • Behavioral therapies: This part of treatment involves working with a mental health professional in one-on-one or group sessions to change negative patterns of alcohol use and replace them with positive habits. Effective therapies for drug and alcohol treatment include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
  • Mutual-support groups: This part of treatment includes 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, which provide a community of support for individuals in recovery.

Treatment for AUD is often tailored to meet an individual’s needs and may involve a combination of these options. Ensure you seek professional help for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Getting Help for Depression and Alcohol Use

If you need support for depression and alcohol use or know someone who does, there’s help available. Taking the first step can be difficult, but it’s the most important step toward a brighter and healthier future.

Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or check out their treatment facility locator at https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help to locate treatment options near you.

FAQs About Alcohol & Depression

Can alcohol cause depression?

Yes, alcohol can cause depression. While drinking alcohol may temporarily relieve sadness and anxiety, it is a depressant drug and can worsen symptoms over time.

Heavy drinking can increase the risk of developing depression and worsen symptoms.

Is there a relationship between alcohol and depression?

There is a complex relationship between alcohol and depression.

Alcohol abuse can lead to depression and even make existing depression worse. On the other hand, depression can also lead to excessive drinking as a form of self-medication. It is important to seek help for both conditions to achieve lasting recovery.

 

How does alcohol affect your mental health?

When you drink alcohol, it affects the part of your brain responsible for inhibiting behavior, making you feel more relaxed, confident, and less worried.

However, the positive effects of alcohol are short-lived. Soon after, the alterations in brain chemistry can cause negative emotions such as sadness, anger, and depression.

Chronic heavy drinking can also increase the risk of developing other mental health disorders. Moreover, it can worsen symptoms of existing mental health conditions and interfere with the effectiveness of medications and therapies.

How long does alcohol-induced depression last?

The duration of alcohol-induced depression can vary depending on the individual and the extent of their drinking. However, it typically lasts three to four weeks after alcohol abstinence.

Other factors can also affect how long alcohol-induced depression lasts, such as genetic predisposition, co-occurring mental health issues, and a person’s overall health and well-being.

 

How does alcohol affect someone who has depression?

Drinking alcohol can worsen symptoms of depression and interfere with the effectiveness of treatments such as therapy and medication. It can also increase the risk of developing other mental health conditions and lead to further problems with substance abuse.

For individuals with depression, it is essential to seek help and avoid alcohol to improve mental health and achieve full recovery.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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