The Link Between Alcohol Abuse & Depression

There’s a very prominent link between alcohol abuse and depression.

It’s important to be aware that this exists in order to provide protective factors to people who are susceptible.

In early 2021 in Britain, there were around 1 in 5 adults living with depression.[1] This means that many of these people are at an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

When people develop these two co-occurring conditions a compassionate outlook is essential. As well as that, knowledge of the most effective treatments is extremely beneficial.

The Link Between Alcohol Use & Depression

Alcohol addiction

People who have depression are more likely than people who aren’t to develop a substance use disorder linked to alcohol or other drugs. When this happens, professionals refer to them as comorbid disorders.

While there isn’t one clear cause of depression or indeed alcohol use disorder, there’s an interesting causal relationship between them, and much of this is reflected in the common underlying factors that are linked to the two conditions separately.

Depression is a mental health condition that has severe symptoms. These symptoms can be so severe, in fact, that they influence how a person experiences life, emotions, and behaviours.

Due to how extreme symptoms can be, it’s common for people to want to try and find ways of escaping their thoughts and feelings.

Alcohol is often a “quick fix” for many who turn to it. It’s an “answer” that doesn’t take effort; it can quickly ease difficult feelings introducing a moment of relaxation or even brief happiness through the escape that is felt.

What people tend to ignore is the fact that ultimately, alcohol is a very strong psychoactive substance with depressant effects.

Alcohol is actually a really unhealthy coping mechanism and this point is especially apparent when people have depression. Not only does it negatively impact physical health, it seriously attacks and impairs mental and emotional health too.

The Different Types of Depression

Woman looking sad

There are various types of depression and while there are common symptoms one person’s experience can present very differently in comparison with another.

This might be seen, for instance, by considering how a person with high-functioning depression is able to perform well at work but could be self-harming or experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Another example is seen in how many men feel unable to talk about emotions and how these might then come out through aggressive behaviours or through suicide rates.

Harvard University reported on common types of depression. [2] Interestingly, depression is also a risk factor for heart disease and dementia, which alcohol use disorder also increases the chances of.

1. Major depression

This is the most commonly thought of in relation to depression. It’s where people experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Irritable mood.
  • Loss of interest in regular activities.
  • Loss of motivation.
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
  • Ruminating thoughts.
  • Impaired sleep.
  • Changes in appetite and weight.
  • Feelings of guilt and shame.
  • Suicidal behaviour, or alternatively thoughts and ideation.

This type of depression can last for weeks, months, and even years. It can be completely debilitating and affect people who care for a loved one as well as the person who is experiencing the mental illness.

It’s usually treated through therapies, antidepressants, and in extreme cases electroconvulsive therapy.

2. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

This is a form of depression triggered by a response to the eyes’ reactivity to light or perhaps changes to daily body rhythms. It usually occurs as autumn and winter arrive.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling low, sad, and ratty.
  • Increased sleep.
  • Weight fluctuations.
  • Low motivation.

It’s a serious mental health issue and is often treated through therapies, light therapy, antidepressants, and vitamin D supplements.

3. Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder was once known as manic depression. It’s a mental illness where the person swings between highs and lows that can go on for hours, weeks, and even months.

Highs are characterised by rapid thoughts, speech, and high energy, and people can lose touch with reality. Lows are experienced with lethargy, low motivation, extreme sadness or feelings of numbness and emptiness.

Various medications are used to treat this condition including antidepressants and antipsychotics as well as various psychotherapies.

4. Persistent Depressive Disorder

This is similar to major depression, but not as extreme. People are able to function as usual but without any pleasure or joy. The condition will exist for at least two years before a diagnosis is given.

The following depression symptoms are common:

  • Seeing/experiencing no joy in anything.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Ruminating thoughts.
  • Low energy.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Fluctuations in appetite and weight.

Other types of depression include perinatal depression and PMDD (a severe form of premenstrual syndrome).

Other signs and symptoms of depression

To be diagnosed with depression, a person will display depressed symptoms consistently for at least two weeks. It’s likely as well that different aspects of life will be impacted from family relationships to work dynamics and productivity.

As well as the above-mentioned symptoms linked to depressive mental disorders, there are other signs that can reveal depression. This is very much linked to substance of abuse and co-occurring depression and drug or alcohol misuse.

Of course, depression can also present through other addictions too, such as behavioural addictions linked to gambling, shopping, sex, porn, and tanning.

Causes of Depression

Depression is no different from other mental health illnesses in the sense that there isn’t one obvious cause. Actually, there are a variety of factors that can be quite common for people who develop depression.

These include:

  • Environmental factors
  • A family history of depression
  • Neurological makeup
  • History of trauma
  • Personality traits (i.e. low self-esteem)

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?


Alcohol addiction, misuse, and dependency all come under the term alcohol use disorder. This is an illness characterised by a person losing control of how they use alcohol.

Behaviours range from binge drinking to becoming a “heavy drinker” where a lot of alcohol is consumed daily.

It’s common for depressive symptoms to be present in people with AUD. As well as depression, people can develop other mental health symptoms and as the disorder becomes more severe, negative consequences ripple across a person’s life.

Becoming dependent on alcohol

As a person drinks more, they can build up a tolerance to alcohol. This often means that more alcohol or stronger alcohol is required to feel an effect.

As this happens there are more consequences for a person’s physical health.

One of the most obvious effects is how withdrawal symptoms present for a person who has developed alcohol dependence. Going without alcohol can prove fatal.

Due to how physical and dangerous withdrawal can be, it’s imperative that people detox from alcohol dependency under the care of a doctor.

Does Drinking Alcohol Make You Depressed?

Heavy drinking impacts the brain and the thyroid. Brain chemistry includes a fine balance of neurotransmitters called serotonin and dopamine, GABA amino acid is another key element.

The thyroid produces the T3 and T4 hormones which are instrumental in regulating emotions.

As with any type of drug abuse, drinking alcohol upsets the balance of the chemicals and hormones that regulate your moods and emotions and it’s common for substance abuse to lead a person to deep feelings of depression.

There’s also the influence of other alcohol-related problems that lead to depression. Because of how alcohol impacts relationships, finances, and physical health, depression can form from these other factors too.

Alcohol, suicide, and psychosis

People with depression often turn to alcohol to try and alleviate symptoms. However, alcohol use can actually lead to depression where it didn’t already exist.

The most severe symptoms are present when people drink larger amounts and more regularly.

The effects of alcohol on emotional and mental health can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviours. When people drink a lot of alcohol, they can also experience hallucinations and psychosis.

Note: If you’re concerned about experiencing any of these symptoms, then it’s important to speak with a professional. In regards to suicidal thoughts, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or your local GP. 

How are Depression & Alcohol Use Disorders Diagnosed?

At home support

These are both mental health disorders and to get a diagnosis of depression or AUD, you’ll have to be assessed by a professional.

The criteria for alcohol use disorder and alcohol dependence are set out by the DSM-5 diagnostic tool. An addiction specialist or psychiatrist uses this to assess the patient.

It explores different topics linked to mental and physical health, daily life functioning, cognitive functioning, and how thoughts and behaviours present around alcohol use.

A doctor or clinical therapist can identify common symptoms of depression and make a diagnosis.

At times, however, people will need a dual diagnosis of both conditions in order to access more appropriate treatment.

What’s a Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis is provided by mental health professionals who are qualified to assess and diagnose psychiatric disorders.

In relation to substance use disorders, they’re very common. This is because people often turn to alcohol and drugs when trying to manage symptoms related to mental health.

On the other side of the coin, mental health illnesses develop from the use of drugs and alcohol.

Unfortunately, due to the effects of alcohol, drinking makes depression worse. In some cases, it can be difficult to know which condition came first.

That isn’t always important, however, and in terms of treatment, the main goal is to be treated in light of both conditions.

Receiving a dual diagnosis can make it easier in terms of accessing the most suitable treatment. This is especially the case for those who opt for private rehab settings.

Private Rehab Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder & Depression


The most effective treatment available for alcohol use disorder and depression is found through a combination of approaches.

Entering a private rehab clinic is an excellent way of accessing the type of support package required to address both conditions while in a substance-free environment.

The cessation of alcohol is important for the patient so that they can recover from depression. On entering rehab, the first focus is on the treatment of alcohol dependence.

This lasts around ten days and includes a Librium prescription which manages the unpleasant feelings linked to withdrawal. Effects are managed so patients are safe and calm.

After the detox period, patients then participate in a programme of activities aimed at mental and emotional healing in connection to alcohol use and depression.

The treatments available include:

Depending on what the psychiatric assessments reveal, patients may be prescribed medications to manage their mood. Antidepressants are quite common.

Being at rehab offers a great space to stabilise new medications without the worry about the risks of mixing them with alcohol.

Final Thoughts

It’s very common for moderate and heavy alcohol use to be linked to depression. This is because people use alcohol to try and lift, numb, or escape their feelings.

As well as this, people who regularly drink can develop depression because of its effects on brain chemistry and hormones.

Both AUD and depression are linked to suicidal thoughts. When both conditions occur together, the risks are increased. It’s important to seek help for both mental health disorders.

Doing so introduces patients to a life where their mental health is managed and this improves future health outcomes.


Can drinking cause severe depression?

Drinking alcohol can seriously exacerbate pre-existing depression and can also lead to depression where it didn’t already exist. This is because of the effects alcohol has on brain chemistry and hormones.

What comes first depression or alcoholism?

It can be really difficult for both professionals as well as patients to identify which mental health condition developed first in some cases. However, the most important thing is that when the two exist, treatment is sought.

Which mental disorder is most commonly comorbid with alcoholism?

The most common mental health illnesses associated with alcohol use disorder are major depression, generalised anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Get Help Today

For more information and advice, please contact Rehab 4 Alcoholism at 0800 111 4108.