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Is My Alcohol Use Contributing to My Depression?

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If you’ve been struggling with depression, you may be using alcohol to cope. But does alcohol cause depression? Does alcohol make depression worse? 

Depression and alcohol addiction are often interlinked, which is why it’s important to learn more about what depression is and the effects of alcohol on depression. 

Depression Defined

It’s common for anyone to feel down or blue from time to time, and individuals sometimes say that they are feeling “depressed” during their temporary periods of sadness. However, clinical depression isn’t just undergoing periodic sadness that is caused by daily life issues or experiencing the occasional ups and downs. Many treatable mental health disorders are distinguished by the following symptoms:

  • An irritable mood that affects an individual’s mind and body, particularly the ability to function 
  • Emptiness 
  • Sadness

The treatable depression disorders are:

  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Major depressive disorder 
  • Various other depressive disorders 

Symptoms of Depression 

Understanding the symptoms of depression can help highlight the link between the use or abuse of alcohol and depression. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent Sadness: Feeling down or hopeless, or experiencing a general mood of sadness that persists for most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Loss of Interest or Pleasure: Losing interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed, including sex.
  • Changes in Appetite or Weight: Significant weight loss or gain, or changes in appetite (overeating or loss of appetite) unrelated to dieting.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep) or oversleeping (hypersomnia).
  • Fatigue or Loss of Energy: Feeling constantly tired, sluggish, or lacking in energy, even after resting.
  • Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt: Persistent feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or self-blame, even when not warranted by circumstances.
  • Difficulty Concentrating or Making Decisions: Trouble focusing, remembering details, or making decisions, which can affect work or daily tasks.
  • Restlessness or Irritability: Feeling agitated, restless, or easily irritated, even over small matters.
  • Physical Symptoms: Some people experience physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues, or chronic pain that doesn’t respond to treatment.
  • Suicidal Thoughts or Behaviors: In severe cases, depression can lead to thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, dial 988 for the 988 Lifeline Suicide & Crisis Hotline.

As you’ll see throughout the article, abuse of alcohol and depression share many of the same signs, symptoms, and consequences.

Does Alcohol Cause Depression?

Is My Alcohol Use Contributing to My Depression?The question that will be answered in this blog is, “Does alcohol cause depression?” Research has shown and indicated that there does seem to be a two-way relationship occurring between depression and alcohol addiction. Both depressive disorders and alcohol use disorder (AUD) can exist together. Each disorder can increase the risk of the other. 

There was a study in JAMA Psychiatry that pointed out that there could be a direct cause and effect relationship between alcohol and depression, specifically alcohol abuse and dependence, along with major depressive disorder in specific circumstances. Alcohol can worsen the depressive symptoms in individuals who have already experienced the symptoms or individuals who could be genetically vulnerable to depressive disorders. 

If an individual’s depressive symptoms are caused by alcohol use, the symptoms might stop after reducing their intake significantly, or altogether stopping their alcohol use. However, it has also been suggested by research that substance-induced depression can transition more into an independent form of depression should the symptoms continue to persist following the cessation of other substances of abuse or alcohol.  

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Yes. Technically speaking, alcohol is classified as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. This classification is based on how alcohol affects the brain and nervous system. Despite its initial stimulating effects that might lead to feelings of euphoria or increased social interaction, alcohol fundamentally slows down brain function and neural communication. As a CNS depressant, it impacts various aspects of physical and mental functioning, leading to slowed reaction times, impaired judgment, and reduced coordination.

How Is Alcohol A Depressant?

Alcohol acts as a depressant through its interaction with the brain’s neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals in the brain and nervous system. It enhances the effects of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid),  a neurotransmitter that has inhibitory effects on brain activity. By increasing GABA’s effectiveness, alcohol promotes relaxation, reduces stress, and lowers inhibitions, leading to the depressant effects on the CNS. In addition, it inhibits the action of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that increases brain activity and energy levels. Alcohol inhibits glutamate’s excitatory effects, further slowing down brain function and contributing to the depressant effect.

Why Is Alcohol A Depressant When It Makes Me Happy?

Can alcohol and depression really be linked if alcohol makes many people feel “happy” when they drink? Alcohol is classified as a depressant because of its effects on the central nervous system—not because it necessarily makes people feel sad or depressed in the short term. Some people may experience a temporary uplift in mood or sense of happiness when drinking alcohol. However, it’s important to recognize that these effects are often short-lived and can be followed by negative consequences such as impaired judgment, decreased coordination, and potential mood swings. 

So, can alcohol make depression worse? Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt brain chemistry, interfere with sleep patterns, and contribute to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. While alcohol may provide temporary relief from stress or negative emotions, it is not a sustainable or healthy long-term solution for managing mental well-being. Seeking support from friends, family, or mental health professionals and exploring healthier coping strategies can be more effective in promoting lasting happiness and overall well-being.

Does Alcohol Make Depression Worse?

Does alcohol make depression worse? The answer is yes, alcohol can certainly exacerbate depressive symptoms and depression. Additionally, a clinical review in the following journal, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice thoroughly explained that drinking can interfere with an individual that is trying to recover from depression. 

The depressed study participants who were considered heavy drinkers exhibited even worse outcomes from depression treatment. Furthermore, mild to moderate amounts of alcohol has appeared to worsen depression. The study indicated that the depressed patients who drank low amounts of alcohol such as less than 1 oz per day ended up experiencing even worse outcomes from pharmacological treatments. 

Alcohol use disorders might be more widespread in individuals who also have depression. Depression and alcohol addiction are certainly interlinked. The actual development of depressive disorder and alcohol use disorder is related to a worse prognosis for both disorders and greater severity.

Why Might People Experience Depression After Drinking Alcohol?

There are many reasons why people might experience depression after drinking. Firstly, alcohol is known to temporarily help improve an individual’s mood or lift a person’s spirits. However, the more a person drinks, the more likely their emotional state will start plummeting. Sometimes, alcohol tends to make a person feel worse than they did before. 

Alcohol affects people in various ways. The effects of alcohol on depression can be extremely severe. Some individuals never recognize depression feelings or any type of negative feelings at all after engaging in drinking moderately. 

Other individuals might begin to feel anxious or depressed after simply one drink. Understanding the relationship between depression and alcohol addiction can help a person manage their depression after drinking. It may even help individuals to avoid drinking in the first place, especially if they are prone to experiencing symptoms of depression.

If you are curious about the overall effects of alcohol on depression, it is important to learn more about how this substance and mental health disorder affect one another. Alcohol and depression can contribute to symptoms in even indirect ways. It’s important to remember that alcohol is a depressant. Drinking alcohol is known to trigger dopamine release and activate the reward system in a person’s brain. At first, alcohol is known to create a stimulant effect. 

There has been research that has linked alcohol and depression with adolescents. Especially when they have engaged in regular or heavy use. Adults who have met the alcohol use disorder criteria have also had a higher risk of experiencing alcohol and depression symptoms. To summarize, even though alcohol might seem as though it improves your overall mood at the moment, it can bring you down with long-term use. There are various areas that alcohol disrupts such as the following:

Alcohol Disrupts Sleep

Have you ever experienced a night of poor sleep where you were tossing and turning, experiencing bizarre dreams, and woke up with your heart racing? These bad dreams are pretty normal. Troubled sleep can relate to the actual changes in an individual’s brain chemistry that is related to alcohol use.

Does alcohol make you depressed? Yes, but it can also interfere with a person’s sleep-wake cycle and keep a person from receiving enough REM sleep. Drinking is known to create various physical consequences – such as dehydration and nausea which can also keep a person from receiving peaceful sleep. Poor sleep is also able to easily affect a person’s mood the next day. Lingering physical symptoms such as exhaustion can make it difficult to concentrate, overall making a person feel pretty low. 

Alcohol Can Worsen Negative Emotions

Undergoing a low mood after a heavy night of drinking can make a person feel pretty awful. Especially when an individual already has depression, drinking might make them feel even worse. Alcohol can enhance the magnitude and severity of a person’s emotional state. 

Alcohol can also affect the areas of a person’s brain that assist in regulating emotions. Commonly, a person might start drinking to forget what’s on their mind. Once the initial boost starts to wear off, it’s typical that the individual will start wallowing in their emotions instead. 

Since alcohol can cloud an individual’s brain, it can also keep a person from being able to view helpful solutions to their problems. Alcohol also lowers an individual’s inhibitions. So if the person has been trying to keep their challenging emotions at bay, such as anger or sadness, it’s possible those feelings can come flooding in when the person drinks. 

The above-mentioned scenario can lead to a difficult cycle. An individual might begin drinking more regularly to feel better about themselves and forget about unfavorable memories and emotions. Increased alcohol use typically doesn’t help. It is more likely to worsen a negative mood state, along with the person’s physical health. 

Drinking to Cope Can Become a Pattern 

When an individual regularly turns to alcohol to manage negative feelings and challenges, they might not take any other actions that could assist them in effectively addressing those same problems. As a result of that, any troubles a person might be facing, from work stress to even relationships, could get much worse. If an individual tends to rely on alcohol to ease their anxiety in social situations, they might not ever find or be able to address the underlying causes of their discomfort. 

The lowered inhibitions that are mentioned above can lead a person to make decisions that normally wouldn’t be made. When it’s combined with heightened mood states, displeasing effects can occur. Increased anger might lead a person to pick fights with loved ones, while extreme self-loathing and sadness could result in severe depression symptoms. 

How Long Does Alcohol-Induced Depression Last?

The actual duration of alcohol-induced depression can greatly vary. Depressive symptoms that are associated with alcohol-induced depression have been shown to significantly improve after an individual has abstained from alcohol for a certain period. It is typically 3-4 weeks in a variety of cases. However, there has been research that has suggested that substance-related depression can turn into a more independent depression if the symptoms of depression persevere following the cessation of substance or alcohol use

How Do Depressive Disorders and Alcoholism Co-occur?

The actual pathways leading to the overall development of the co-occurring depressive disorder and an AUD are intertwined and complex. Some individuals might present to be susceptible to both alcohol and depression. For other individuals, the actual symptoms of a depressive disorder can impact and influence AUD development. 

A possible contributor to the cooccurrence is that individuals attempt to relieve depressive disorder symptoms with various substances such as alcohol. People who undergo major depressive symptoms might start the process of relying on alcohol to feel better, and ease their symptoms. However, over time, this pattern can develop into a full-scale alcohol use disorder. 

Even in circumstances where an individual doesn’t develop an AUD, self-medicating might not present to be beneficial long-term, as it is connected with higher stress levels, lower-health related qualify of life, and increased psychiatric comorbidity. Research has gone one step further to associate an AUD with risk, not only for the onset of experiencing depressive symptoms, but also depressive disorders. It’s essential to note the co-occurrence of depressive disorders and AUD, particularly persistent depressive disorder and major depressive disorder. 

The above-mentioned scenario might include a more heightened suicidal behavior risk. Depression and alcohol addiction is a vicious pair that can certainly be challenging to overcome. However, treatment can be super effective in treating the effects of alcohol on depression. 

What is the Best Treatment for Co-occurring Depression and Alcohol Use Disorder?

The treatment for co-occurring alcohol use disorder and depression generally includes an integrated perspective that can simultaneously address both depression and alcohol use disorder. Many treatments do help AUD and co-occurring depression and they include:


Detox is generally the first step in an individual’s recovery process and it’s followed by the person’s entry into a formal drug rehabilitation program. With detox, the person can comfortably and safely withdraw from alcohol. 


An individual might receive antidepressants for some symptoms of their AUD or depression. Additionally, a person might receive other medications aimed to assist with abstinence from alcohol. 

Behavioral Therapies

Is My Alcohol Use Contributing to My Depression?

New Directions for Women Can Help Ladies Who Are Suffering From Alcoholism

If you or a woman close to you is struggling with depression, alcohol abuse, or a co-occurring disorder, we can help you. Here at New Directions for Women, we assist women in overcoming alcohol addictions. Contact us today to get started.

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