Alcohol and Depression

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on April 23, 2024
6 min read

A drink every once in a while can be OK. But if you have trouble managing your drinking, become fixated on alcohol, or keep drinking even though it may cause issues, you might have alcohol use disorder. It's a condition that involves a pattern of using alcohol, which can include binge drinking or having more than a certain number or drinks within a set time frame, or increasingly having to drink more alcohol to lead to the same effects.

There’s also a strong link between serious alcohol use and depression. If you have a mental disorder, like depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, it's common to have trouble with substances including alcohol. This condition can lead to trouble in your daily life.

Regular drinking can lead to depression, and depressed people are also more likely to drink too much. Learn more about alcohol and depression.

Nearly one-third of people with major depression (or major depressive disorder) also have alcohol use disorder. Often, the depression comes first. Research shows that depressed children are more likely to have problems with alcohol a few years down the road. Also, teens who've had a bout of major depression are twice as likely to start drinking as those who haven’t. And if you start drinking at an early age, your risk of alcohol use disorder is higher. This is especially true if you binge drink.

Women are more than twice as likely to start drinking heavily if they have a history of depression. Experts say that women are more likely than men to overdo it when they’re down.

Drinking will only make depression worse. People who are depressed and drink too much have more frequent and severe episodes of depression and are more likely to think about suicide. Heavy alcohol use also can make antidepressants less effective.

Other risk factors for alcohol use disorder include: 

  • Social and cultural factors. If your partner or friends drink on a regular basis, you could have an increased risk of the condition. Parents, friends, and mentors could play a role in risk if you're younger.
  • Past trauma. If you've had trauma (including emotional trauma) in the past, your risk of alcohol use disorder is higher.
  • Genetics. The risk of alcohol use disorder is higher for people who have a parent or other close relative who has problems with alcohol. This may be influenced by genetic factors.
  • Having weight loss surgery. Some research shows that having gastric bypass surgery may be a risk factor for problems with alcohol use.

When you drink too much, you’re more likely to make bad decisions or act on impulse. As a result, you could drain your bank account, lose a job, or ruin a relationship. When that happens, you're more likely to feel depressed, particularly if you have a family history of depression.

Is alcohol a depressant? Yes, alcohol is a depressant, as it depresses your central nervous system. This system includes your brain and your spinal cord and controls how you process sensory information, which can include how you think and your physical control.

In some people, the initial reaction may feel like an increase in energy. But as you continue to drink, you become drowsy and have less control over your actions.

Drinking a lot can harm your brain and lead to depression.

It's not always clear if depression makes you drink or vice versa. Studies of twins have shown that the same things that lead to heavy drinking in families also make depression more likely.

Researchers have found at least one common gene. It’s involved in brain functions like memory and attention. Variations in this gene might put people at risk of both alcohol misuse and depression.

Home and social environment also play a role. Children who were abused or raised in poverty appear to be more likely to get both conditions.

It probably won't hurt to have a glass of wine or beer once in a while for social reasons unless you have a health condition that prevents you from drinking. But if you turn to alcohol to get you through the day, or if it causes trouble in your relationships, at work, in your social life, or with how you think and feel, you may have a more serious problem.

Alcohol misuse and depression are serious conditions that you shouldn't ignore. If you think you have a problem with either, talk to your doctor or therapist. There are lots of choices when it comes to medication that treats depression, and there are drugs that lower alcohol cravings and counter the desire to drink heavily. Your doctor will probably treat both conditions together. You can also get help from Alcoholics Anonymous or an alcohol treatment center in your area.

If you have certain conditions, including depression, you could be at an increased risk of getting alcohol use disorder. This is a pattern of using alcohol despite its bad effects. Your symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include drinking more than you meant to, having trouble cutting back on drinking when you try, or being unable to quit drinking even though it's causing problems in your daily life and relationships. If you or your loved ones are worried about your alcohol use or think you have alcohol use disorder, talk to your doctor or a mental health specialist about treatment options.

  • Does alcohol make you feel depressed? Alcohol is a depressant that affects your central nervous system (your brain and your spinal cord). Drinking heavily on a regular basis can lead to symptoms of depression.
  • Does alcohol make my anxiety worse? Alcohol can cause chemical changes in your brain that can lead to negative feelings like anxiety and depression.
  • How does alcohol affect you emotionally? The part of your brain that alcohol affects includes the area that controls your inhibitions or your ability to understand the outcomes of your decisions, which can give you short-term feelings of confidence and calmness. But it then results in bad feelings like anxiety and depression as chemical changes in your brain take place.
  • Why do you feel bad after drinking? Your brain needs a certain number of neurotransmitters, or chemicals that send messages throughout your body, to keep away negative feelings like depression and anxiety. When you use alcohol for longer periods, the number of neurotransmitters decreases, which makes it harder to keep away the bad emotions. You could then want to drink more to keep certain feelings away, which could lead to dependence on alcohol.