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Will Alcohol Make My Depression Worse?

December 28, 2021

Yes, alcohol use can make your depression worse. Experts caution anyone struggling with depression or another mental health condition to avoid using alcohol.

Although drinking a small amount of alcohol might make you feel better at first, any positive effects quickly decrease as you continue to drink. The more you drink, the more prone you are to deepening depression and the more likely you are to develop an alcohol use disorder, the clinical name for alcoholism.

Depression and alcohol use disorder (AUD) are the most commonly diagnosed co-occurring disorders. Experiencing both conditions at the same time heightens the severity of symptoms and increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions.

Alcohol is a Depressant

Although alcohol is a depressant, that does not mean it makes you feel more depressed. Alcohol is a depressant because it depresses, or slows down, the central nervous system (CNS), including functions of the brain and spinal cord. This slowing of the CNS is why alcohol may impair your movements, emotions, speech, perceptions, and judgment. If you consume too much alcohol, it can depress your CNS to the point of death.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

Alcohol and other addictive substances affect the pleasure and reward center of the brain, triggering the release of chemicals that produce joy, euphoria, and a feeling of well-being. Because addictive substances raise the levels of “feel good” chemicals at a rate much higher than would occur naturally, they strongly reinforce the desire to repeat the experience.

Unfortunately, while alcohol may initially increase serotonin and dopamine, the brain adapts to the overload. From then on, the brain demands higher and higher levels to deliver the desired effect. The result is a cycle of increasingly heavier drinking as you seek to overcome worsening depression.

Continued use of alcohol, or even one instance of binge drinking, can damage certain brain functions. Long-term alcohol abuse not only worsens anxiety and depression but may also lead to liver disease, heart damage, and more.

How Does Alcohol Worsen Depression?

Research has consistently found that drinking alcohol worsens depression in general and causes more frequent severe depressive episodes. But alcohol doesn’t just damage the brain’s ability to regulate moods.

Alcohol use may also:

  • Decrease levels of brain chemicals necessary to your sense of well-being. Small amounts of alcohol may temporarily increase these chemicals and relieve stress, but continued use damages the mood regulation function of the brain, increasing anxiety or depression.
  • Decrease levels of folic acid. Low levels of this chemical may cause anemia, exhaustion, depression, and a higher risk of dementia. Studies show a large percentage of those with AUD are deficient in folic acid and other essential nutrients that impact mood.
  • Decrease the effectiveness of antidepressants. Alcohol may also cause harmful side effects if used with anti-anxiety, sleep, or prescription pain medications. Drinking too much can increase the risk of a dangerous spike in blood pressure, too.
  • Disrupt sleep patterns. Healthy sleep is essential to your mental and physical health. Experts link too little or too much sleep to mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, as well as an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Contribute to risky behavior. This can include driving or swimming while intoxicated, having unsafe sex, committing aggressive or violent actions, self-injury, and more. These behaviors may result in legal or financial problems and other serious consequences that can cause a deepening of depression.
  • Increase feelings of worthlessness. If you know you have a problem with alcohol but cannot stop using it, you may feel a loss of control, shame, and self-loathing, which increases depression.
  • Lead to isolation. Both alcohol use and depression may cause you to distance yourself from family and friends, which worsens both disorders.

Treatment is Available

If you are struggling with depression, you must reach out for help. Contact your physician or a mental health specialist for resources. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

The New England Medical Group offers a holistic approach designed to help you get to the root cause of your depression so you can begin healing. If you struggle with depression and a co-occurring disorder like AUD, you can be confident our expert staff will address both issues during your treatment.

Our compassionate team proudly provides advanced therapy options to treat both substance abuse and mental health issues. We also offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to relieve withdrawal symptoms, decrease the risk of overdose, and provide overall support to the addiction recovery process.

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs, including telehealth options.

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