Many people might use alcohol to help improve their mood. But when does “drowning your sorrows” in alcohol become dangerous? Can alcohol really cause depression? Having a drink or two to relax after a stressful day is certainly ok. But when alcohol becomes necessary dealing with painful emotions, Alcohol Use Disorder can develop. 

Co-occuring Problems

Does excessive alcohol consumption cause depression or are depressed people more likely to drink too much? Research would suggest that both are possible. Excessive consumption of alcohol alters brain chemistry. Years of abuse can affect neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin in the brain and gut. Dopamine is the brain’s reward system, while serotonin helps regulate mood and well-being. Alcohol plays a role in both creating depression and amplifying existing symptoms. 

People who suffer from depression are more likely to abuse alcohol. Co-occurence of alcohol use disorder and depression is perhaps the most common co-occuring condition. Depression is most easily defined as a feeling of sadness or hopelessness. Depression can also carry symptoms of irritability, loss of interest, anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. Alcohol is usually used as a way to suppress these feelings for those suffering from depression. However, the more alcohol an individual consumes, the stronger their dependency will become over time. Eventually, you train your body to experience happiness only when drinking. 

Common Types of Depression

  • Persistent Depression Disorder – Also known as dysthymia, persistent depression is categorized by recurrent depressive symptoms from more than two years. Symptoms can range from mild to severe from indeterminate amounts of time. Persistent depression can take a toll on a person’s physical and mental well-being. Since the negative effects of alcohol grow over time, it can worsen persistent depression. 
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – The cold, dark winter months can have a direct effect on mood. Low light in the fall and winter months can cause a symptom called the “winter blues.” Alcohol and abuse can sometimes arise as a temporary solution to make it through these tough months. Alcohol dependency can grow, however, out of excessive use and continue after winter is over. 
  • Major Depression – This is the most serious form of depression. Feelings of worthlessness and sadness can consume an individual’s life. It is estimated as many as 25% of Americans will suffer from a major depressive episode at least once in their life. Nearly one-third of people with major depression have a problem with alcohol. Those with major depression are also twice as likely to develop a drinking problem. 
  • Psychotic Depression – A more severe form of depression categorized by paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. Alcohol makes the symptoms of psychotic depression much worse. A person can experience more intense paranoia and hallucinations while under the influence. This makes them a danger to themselves and others.

Excessive drinking can alter your brain chemistry and make you more prone to experiencing depression. Your genes can also play a role in your sensitivity to depression and alcohol use disorder. People who suffer from any form of depression are not recommended to drink alcohol. Alcohol can amplify some symptoms of depression and can neutralize the effects of antidepressant prescription drugs.

Next Steps

Remember, alcohol is drug categorized as a depressant. That mean the more you drink, the more likely you are to get the blues at some point. Also, drinking a lot can cause poor decision making which can have negative outcomes that can cause depression (loss of a job, legal trouble, relationship problems). One study found that cutting out alcohol for just 4 weeks improved symptoms of depression.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, help is available. Rock Recovery Center in West Palm Beach, Florida can help with advice on next steps. Call our 24-hour helpline or chat live with us now.

Additional Resources

Alcohol Worsens Depression