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Alcohol and Depression: What You Should Know

By Neha Kashyap
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Carol Anderson, LMSW, ACSW on January 27, 2021
Alcohol and depression can go hand-in-hand as part of a dual diagnosis, also known as a co-occurring disorder.

A co-occurrence of alcoholism and depression can lead to a dual diagnosis, where depression and alcohol abuse are treated at the same time.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism)

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), commonly known as alcoholism, occurs when alcohol consumption becomes so uncontrollable that it negatively affects important aspects of your life. Alcoholism can cause damage to relationships, job prospects, finances, and physical and mental health.

Physical effects of long-term alcohol abuse include:

  • organ damage
  • infertility
  • stomach bleeding
  • changes to the brain

Alcohol’s depressant nature hampers the pleasure centers of your brain, which can eventually lead to chronic mood issues.

“Furthermore, it enables self-isolation, self-pity, catastrophic thinking and self-destructive patterns which also increase toxic chemicals in the brain,” Mary Tatum, a psychotherapist in Palm Beach, Florida, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “In an alcoholic state, alcohol is seen as the primary relationship in that person's life…this isolation and reservation heightens feelings of depression and lack of self-worth. It becomes a vicious cycle over time.”

Symptoms of Depression

Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness, worthlessness, or guilt that lasts for an inordinate amount of time and interferes with daily life. Other symptoms of depression include:

  • exhaustion
  • trouble focusing or making decisions
  • lack of enjoyment in normally pleasurable activities
  • thoughts of suicide

If you have depression, you may also self-medicate by abusing substances including alcohol. 

Dual Diagnosis: Alcoholism and Depression

Alcohol’s depressant nature can cause or exacerbate depression, and this could have disastrous long-term effects.

“Dual diagnosis of depression with alcoholism is a vicious cycle in which one reinforces the other. That is, one drinks to cope with depression as well as is depressed because of problematic drinking,”  Matt Glowiak, PhD, LCPC a practicing therapist in Chicago, says, “When one depresses the mind of an already depressed individual, symptoms ultimately intensify.”

Get Help Now

The good news is that dual diagnoses, also called co-occurring disorders, are common and treatable. If you’re feeling depressed or turning to alcohol during times of stress, it might be time to get help. Also, if you consume alcohol in large amounts, you might want to consider underlying mental health issues behind the drinking

“It is rare to see anyone with a major drinking problem who is not currently struggling with mood-related issues,” Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki, licensed psychologist and director at All Points North Lodge in Colorado, says. “Luckily, in my experience most alcoholics find that when they get sober they are better able to deal with their depression than they had been telling themselves all along.”

Treatment & Resources for Alcohol Addiction