Alcohol and Depression

Depression is a silent struggle that millions of people face every day. It’s a condition that affects not only one’s mood but also their overall well-being. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to combating depression, there’s a controversial factor often involved in the mix: alcohol. In this blog post, I will explore the intricate relationship between alcohol and depression. I will also dive into the short and long-term effects of alcohol on the mind, the notion of self-medication, and how alcohol can exacerbate depression. Finally, we’ll shed light on why it’s crucial to address this complex issue.

Understanding Depression

Before we delve into the connection between alcohol and depression, let’s first understand depression itself. Depression is a mental health condition that affects the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. It can lead to persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, impacting a person’s ability to function in daily life [1].

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Mind

Alcohol use, in the short term, can provide a temporary escape from the symptoms of depression. It can offer a feeling of relaxation and euphoria, which seems to provide relief from the constant cloud of sadness.

However, the short-term benefits of alcohol are deceptive. It acts as a depressant on the central nervous system, slowing down brain activity and interfering with neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood [2]. This can actually worsen depression symptoms over time, as the initial relief turns into a vicious cycle of dependence.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Mind

Long-term alcohol abuse takes a significant toll on the mind [2,3]. Prolonged heavy drinking can lead to a condition known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) and can further exacerbate depression. Here’s how:

  • Brain Chemistry: Chronic alcohol use disrupts the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These chemicals play crucial roles in regulating mood. Over time, heavy drinking can deplete these neurotransmitters, making it even harder for individuals to experience happiness and satisfaction without alcohol.
  • Structural Changes: The brain’s structure can also be affected by long-term alcohol abuse. Reduced brain volume, particularly in areas related to emotional regulation and memory, is common among individuals with AUD. These structural changes can contribute to the persistence of depression.
  • Co-Occurring Disorders: AUD often goes hand in hand with depression and other mental health disorders [7]. The presence of both conditions can complicate treatment and recovery. Individuals with both depression and AUD may experience more severe and enduring symptoms of both disorders.

Self-Medication and Alcohol

Many people with depression turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication. They may use it to escape emotional pain or to numb their feelings temporarily. The initial relief provided by alcohol can make it seem like a quick fix for the overwhelming sadness that accompanies depression.

However, this self-medication strategy often leads to a destructive cycle. As tolerance develops, individuals need more alcohol to achieve the same mood-altering effects, which can result in alcohol dependence or addiction [4]. Instead of addressing the root causes of depression, alcohol becomes a temporary band-aid that ultimately worsens the condition.

Alcohol’s Influence on Depression

It’s not just that alcohol and depression can exist side by side; alcohol can directly contribute to the development and worsening of depressive symptoms [2,3,4]. Here’s how:

  • Chemical Imbalance: As mentioned earlier, alcohol can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters, making it harder for the brain to regulate a healthy mood. This imbalance can lead to more frequent and intense depressive episodes.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, making it challenging to get a good night’s rest. Sleep plays a vital role in emotional regulation, and consistent sleep disturbances can exacerbate depression [6].
  • Social and Emotional Consequences: Alcohol misuse can lead to strained relationships, financial problems, and a general deterioration in quality of life. These external stressors can exacerbate depressive symptoms and perpetuate the cycle of depression and alcohol use.
  • Physical Health: Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to a range of physical health issues, including liver disease, cancer, and heart problems [5]. These physical complications can add to the burden of depression, further diminishing one’s overall well-being.


The complex relationship between alcohol and depression is a double-edged sword. While alcohol may initially provide temporary relief from the emotional pain associated with depression, it ultimately deepens the mental health struggle. The short-term euphoria is quickly overshadowed by long-term detrimental effects on brain chemistry and overall well-being.

Navigating the intricate relationship between alcohol and depression can be especially challenging in countries like the UK, where alcohol has a significant presence in daily life. In the UK, a quick after-work pint or weekend pub outing is deeply ingrained in the culture, often serving as a cornerstone for social interactions. Moreover, alcohol often plays a central role in celebratory events and business gatherings. This cultural norm can place added pressure on individuals grappling with depression, as they may feel compelled to partake in alcohol-related activities even when they know it’s detrimental to their mental health. The prevalence of alcohol in these settings can complicate the battle against self-medication and make it even more challenging for individuals to seek help or alternatives.

For individuals with depression, it’s essential to seek help from mental health professionals and explore healthier coping mechanisms. Alcohol should not be used as a crutch to numb the pain but rather as an opportunity to engage in open conversations about mental health and well-being. Combating depression and its ties to alcohol is a difficult journey, but with support, it is possible to break free from the cycle and work towards a healthier, happier life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or alcohol-related issues, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. There are resources and communities ready to provide support and guidance on this challenging path.

Adam, St Albans Practitioner


  1. National institute of Mental Health (2023). Depression. [online] National Institute of Mental Health. Available at:
  2. ‌National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2022). Alcohol and the Brain: an Overview | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). [online] Available at:
  3. Underwood, M.D., Kassir, S.A., Bakalian, M.J., Galfalvy, H., Dwork, A.J., Mann, J.J. and Arango, V. (2018). Serotonin receptors and suicide, major depression, alcohol use disorder and reported early life adversity. Translational Psychiatry, [online] 8(1). doi:
  4. Turner, S., Mota, N., Bolton, J. and Sareen, J. (2018). Self-medication with alcohol or drugs for mood and anxiety disorders: A narrative review of the epidemiological literature. Depression and Anxiety, [online] 35(9), pp.851–860. doi:
  5. CDC (2020). Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Learn the facts | CDC. [online] Available at:
  6. Brower, K.J. (2001). Alcohol’s Effects on Sleep in Alcoholics. Alcohol Research & Health, [online] 25(2), pp.110–125. Available at:
  7. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2022). Mental Health Issues: Alcohol Use Disorder and Common Co-occurring Conditions | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). [online] Available at: