Depression Causes What's the Connection Between Alcohol and Depression? By Sarah Sheppard Updated on August 31, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE Medically reviewed by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Effects of Alcohol Use Contributing Factors Alcohol Use Disorder and Depression Treatment Options If you’re battling depression, alcohol isn’t going to make you feel better. It may temporarily suppress feelings of isolation, anxiety, or sadness, but that won’t last. And more than likely, your depression will worsen. The connection between alcohol and depression and the two conditions may feed off one another. In many cases, treating alcoholism will relieve depression. However, alleviating depression does not resolve the alcohol use disorder. In some cases, you may receive a dual diagnosis of a major depressive disorder (MDD) and an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This co-occurring disorder isn’t uncommon, but it can be difficult to treat. This article outlines the connection between alcohol and depression, how the two disorders align, identifies treatment options, and ways to cope. The Different Types of Drinking Habits to Avoid Effects of Alcohol Use Alcohol can produce feelings of euphoria and excitement, making you feel instantly happier and more confident, but those feelings are fleeting. Alcohol is a depressant. Much like barbiturates (sedatives), alcohol is a drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS) and the brain’s functionality. Yet, many Americans drink alcohol, even if they’re depressed. “In our society alcohol is readily available and socially acceptable,” says Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, author of Whole Brain Living, explains. “Depression and alcohol misuse are often tied because we take a depressant to counter a chemical depression which only makes it worse.” The more alcohol you drink, the more severe the symptoms. Depending on your intoxication level, you may experience decreased inhibition, loss of judgement, confusion, and mood swings, among others. “Alcohol is frequently used to numb uncomfortable emotions and can become a habitual pattern that disrupts the natural balance of neurotransmitters in the brain,” says Vanessa Kennedy, PhD, Director of Psychology at Driftwood Recovery. No matter your drink of choice, alcohol can easily be abused and often is, especially when it’s used to self-medicate. Pouring yourself a glass of wine or cracking a beer at the end of a long day may temporarily relieve feelings of depression, because alcohol acts as a sedative, but it will exacerbate those feelings and actually intensify them. Drinking persistently and excessively can increase your risk of developing a major depressive disorder. It can also aggregate symptoms of pre-existing depression and endanger your health and mental health. Individuals diagnosed with clinical depression should be extremely cautious when it comes to using substances such as alcohol. According to Dr. Kennedy, for those taking antidepressants, combining them with alcohol can reduce their efficacy. Contributing Factors The co-occurrence of a major depressive disorder and an alcohol use disorder is surprisingly common. Yet, there are certain factors that can put you at a higher risk of experiencing these comorbid disorders. Those factors include: Genetics, including a family history of depression or substance misuseHistory of trauma or abuse, or PTSD, which may result from child abuse, sexual assault, combat, etc.Underlying mental health conditionsEnvironmental factors, including exposures to violence, trauma, assault, abuse, etc. If you believe you’re susceptible of experiencing alcohol addiction or depression, you may want to speak with a mental health professional, such as a social worker, counselor, or therapist, about these concerns and how best to prevent or cope with these disorders. Alcohol Use Disorder and Depression Many studies have found that alcohol dependence is closely linked to depression. When it comes to diagnosing an alcohol use disorder and a major depressive disorder, it’s important to address them simultaneously, as they can significantly impact your recovery. Get to know the two disorders and how they correlate. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Alcohol may be a socially acceptable drug, but it’s still a drug. Alcohol abuse and dependence are both considered an alcohol use disorder, with studies finding that alcohol dependence is more closely tied to the persistence of depressive disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), these are some signs and symptoms that could reveal an alcohol use disorder: Your drinking is interfering with home, school, or work.You’ve stopped engaging in activities that are important to you.You’ve found yourself in dangerous situations while drinking, such as driving, swimming, or having unsafe sex while under the influence.You’ve drank to experience a certain effect.You’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, such as nausea, sweating, racing heart, or trouble sleeping.You’ve tried to cut back, but can’t.You’ve drank more or longer than you intended on more than one occasion. You’ve continued drinking even though you’ve felt depressed, anxious, or blacked out.You’ve wanted to drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else. DSM-5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorders The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 9 out of 10 adult binge drinkers don’t have a severe alcohol use disorder, but that doesn’t mean alcohol isn’t a problem for them. Drinking to cope with depression, no matter if you have an alcohol use disorder, is concerning. Alcohol use disorders may be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the combination of symptoms you’re experiencing, but drinking problems can exist regardless of a clinical diagnosis. Whether you’re experiencing depression or not, it’s important to evaluate your drinking habits and consider why you drink, when you drink, and how you feel when you drink. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) Depression is a common and serious mood disorder, which can impact your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In the United States alone, an estimated 17.3 million adults have had at least one major depressive episode. Some common signs and symptoms of depression, according to the DSM-5 Manual, include: Feeling sad, empty, or hopelessLosing interest in activities you once enjoyedExperiencing a significant change in weight or decrease in appetiteHaving trouble sleeping, experiencing fatigue, or sleeping too muchExperiencing thoughts of death or suicidal thoughtsHaving difficulty concentrating Major depressive disorder involves persistent and prolonged symptoms, but depression, in general, takes on many different forms. Depressive symptoms can result from life stressors, mental health conditions, medical conditions, and other factors. Depression can also be directly caused by alcohol in the case of a substance-induced disorder. Though depression is experienced by many, it can often go undiagnosed and untreated. You don’t have to battle the depression alone and relying on alcohol to make you feel better will only cause further pain. Reach out to a mental health professional to talk about treatment and strategies for dealing with depression. 7 Facts You Should Know About Depression Other Connections Some experts also suggest that both depression and alcohol use disorders share underlying pathophysiology in that they are both neuroinflammatory conditions. Because of this shared connection, treatment for both should include a diet aimed at improving gut function and reducing endotoxin load that contributes to neuroinflammation. Following a Mediterranean diet rich in omega-3's, for example, might be one recommendation. Treatment Options It's very important to address both alcohol abuse and depression simultaneously when looking into treatment options, as these conditions are closely intertwined and can exacerbate each other, Dr. Kennedy explains. “Cells are living beings and if you want to fix the issue of depression at the level of the cells, they cannot be inebriated,” says Dr. Taylor. “Alcohol makes us feel drunk and confused because alcohol makes the cells drunk and nonfunctional.” “Treatment options can range from seeing an individual therapist or psychiatrist once a week in an outpatient setting to attending an intensive outpatient group three times a week or residential treatment, in which an individual stays in a treatment setting, receives intensive therapy, and is physically separated from alcohol in order to recover,” says Dr. Kennedy. A dual diagnosis can be complicated to treat, no matter the circumstances. The most common treatment options are included below, but know that recovery requires a personalized treatment plan that best suits your mental health needs. Therapy “Therapeutic interventions designed to address both issues often include a focus on addressing emotional pain or trauma, as well as developing and practicing healthy coping behaviors,” says Dr. Kennedy. Treatment depends on the individual, but there are many different therapeutic interventions which are used to address both alcohol use disorder and major depressive disorder. Among them, Dr. Kennedy recommends: Trauma-specific therapy Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) Individual therapy Group therapy Family therapy Cognitive behavioral therapy can also be used to treat co-occurring AUD and MDD, by improving your emotional regulation, changing your cognitive behaviors, and helping you develop personal coping strategies. Depending on the severity of the disorders, you may need more intense treatment, such as outpatient care, integrated assertive community (ACT) treatment or a residential stay, which may be required to begin or continue your recovery journey. You may also consider joining a community-based group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) Recovery. Medication The use of medication to treat an alcohol use disorder and a major depressive disorder depends entirely on the individual and their circumstances. According to Dr. Kennedy, possible medications include: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) Tricyclic antidepressantsMood stabilizers It is important to note that medications for alcohol use disorder are a first-line treatment. They can be helpful for many, so talk to your doctor about this option. If you’re dealing with severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and hallucinations, among others, then your doctor may suggest medications such as chlordiazepoxide or other benzodiazepines. Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and disulfiram are also FDA-approved medications that can help curb alcohol cravings. “An experienced psychiatrist [or another mental health professional] familiar with mood disorders and the effects of alcohol abuse can be instrumental in recommending appropriate medications and monitoring medication efficacy,” says Dr. Kennedy. A Word From Verywell It can be tempting to drink if you’re feeling unhappy, but there’s a better solution out there. When treating depression and substance abuse, consult with a mental health professional and/or an addiction specialist who can provide resources and recommendations for possible treatment options. 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Ind Psychiatry J. 2013;22(2):100-108. Patel AK, Balasanova AA. Treatment of alcohol use disorder. JAMA. 2021;325(6):596. By Sarah Sheppard Sarah Sheppard is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, writing instructor, and advocate for mental health, women's issues, and more. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Depression Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.