The Link Between Alcohol And Depression - Rehab Guide
hungover man with brain and wine

The Link Between Alcohol And Depression

The relation between alcohol and depression

Have you ever talked about ‘drowning your sorrows’ or getting some ‘Dutch courage? If so, you might be on the wrong path. The idea that alcohol can soothe depression or solve anxiety goes against the latest scientific and mental health findings. Alcohol and depression are known to be co-occurring disorders and need professional rehab treatment.

  • Half of the people in rehab for alcoholism have depression or other mental health issues.
  • A third of those with a major depressive disorder are addicted to alcohol.
  • A quarter of the nearly 600,000 people in the UK who are alcohol dependent have depression or associated mental health problems.

Alcohol and Depression in the UK

Depression and alcohol abuse tend to go hand in hand. There are several reasons to explain this link:

Psychological Reasons

A “chicken and egg” scenario. Depression can often be brought on by a traumatic or stressful event or situation.

Someone drinks to deal with depression or its symptoms – insomnia, anxiety, stress. Drinking too much then makes their life worse. They feel less well, do less exercise, have less money and their relationships deteriorate.

These are all lifestyle causes of depression and it can be hard to break this cycle. Especially since alcohol may dull the pain of depression short term. However, it makes the situation worse long-term.

This goes the other way as well. You may have been abusing alcohol for some time leading to more stress, unhappiness and poor relationships. Therefore, causing the addiction.

Thankfully this doesn’t have to go on forever. If you have depression and are suffering from alcoholism/alcohol abuse, removing alcohol from the equation will reveal the true nature of any underlying mental health illness.

If you are alcohol dependent, a medical alcohol detox will be required to ensure that this process is conducted safely. Breaking the cycle through a rehab treatment program is your best way out. A rehab in the UK will offer:

  • Dual diagnosis of mental health problems and addiction.
  • Counselling with a mental health professional
  • Group Therapy
  • Medication such as antidepressants if you need them
  • Holistic therapy programs encouraging fitness, hobbies and sober socialising

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Biological Reasons

Recent studies suggest that addiction and depression may even stem from the same protein in our brain. The ‘gene switch’ protein Delta FOSb has long been associated with addiction. It switches on and off genes linked to our brain’s pleasure and reward center.

Recent studies suggest people with long-lasting depression have lower levels of Delta FOSb in their system. Given how Delta FOSb helps us deal with social and psychological stress this makes sense.

There are several other areas of our brain affected by depression. The hippocampus and amygdala are shrunk by depressive thoughts. It may start out with a single event or loss, making us depressed but once the damage is done it takes time to rebuild.

Cultural Reasons

Alcohol is available over the counter in the UK for those who want to self-medicate. Culturally alcohol use is acceptable, even encouraged in the UK. People are told to have a drink after a tough day or to calm their nerves. While antidepressants and counselling seem unknown and unfamiliar. There is often a taboo in getting medical help for depression which increases the risk of self-treatment with alcohol.

What is Hangover Depression?

Our body is constantly adjusting to the chemicals in our system. Below shows how alcohol uses GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) to make us feel calmer and less anxious while we are drinking. What follows after explains why we feel the opposite the morning after when we have a hangover.

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This isn’t the only neurotransmitter involved in hangover depression though. Glutamate increases as you drink more alcohol, and it leads to anxiety, hyperactivity and poor sleep quality. Anxiety is increased by fear of what you did under the influence and can quickly spiral into depression.

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A trick of the Mind: Alcohol and Dopamine Levels

Dopamine plays a role in alcohol abuse and alcoholism and can cause depression or make it worse.

Alcohol is a depressant drug, which means that it lowers and suppresses neurotransmitter activity in the brain. People who drink frequently are likely to become lethargic, unmotivated, anxious and start feeling depressed as a result.

Alcohol initially can cause the effect of euphoria by temporarily increasing dopamine levels in the brain. However, this feeling stops as soon as the alcohol wears off and dopamine levels then plummet.

This has a knock-on effect of causing a low mood and other symptoms associated with depression.

Once you are alcohol dependent, you can become unable to feel any pleasure at all unless intoxicated. Their brain relies on alcohol to trigger the release of dopamine (mother nature’s feel-good chemical and emotional regulator).

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The good news is that in most cases once the alcohol has been safely stopped the brain can repair itself. Although this may take some time and assistance from medication and/or therapy.

Alcohol and Suicide

The Royal College of Psychiatrists states that heavy use of alcohol increases suicidal and self-harm tendencies. Why? Because:

  • Alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression and other mental health illnesses
  • Hangovers can create a cycle of waking up feeling ill, anxious, jittery and guilty.
  • Life gets more troublesome – arguments with family, friends, trouble at work, finances, memory and sexual problems.

We know through our rehabs and the patients that we help on a daily basis, that this is very true. More often than not, individuals admitted to our detox clinics or rehab centres for the treatment of alcoholism also suffer from depression, anxiety, or both.

Evidence from the Office of National Statistics and Public Health England suggests that men at higher risk of suicide are also more likely to turn to alcohol than women when they are in distress. Statistics also reveal that people living in the poorest communities are often the most affected.

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Many struggling with an alcohol problem feeling depressed sadly reach the point where they feel that their family and the world, in general, would be better off without them. Once this sort of thinking is established in an individual, it is critical that they receive the correct dual diagnosis treatment for both alcoholism and depression urgently.

The Samaritans agree they say that individuals with an alcohol problem are up to 8 times more likely to attempt suicide. Read more on The Samaritan’s alcohol and suicide policy briefing.

Suicidal thoughts can be brought on by the kind of deep depression when those with mental health issues drink too much. Manging this depression and suicidal thoughts is possible with help from a mental health professional.

A rehab treatment program as an inpatient is the safest option if you have any thoughts of suicide. 24-hour medical supervision can help protect those who are considering suicide. A completely alcohol-free space, prescriptions for antidepressants and daily therapy can help you free yourself from the downwards spiral of addiction and depression.

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How Rehab helps Depression

If you struggle with alcoholism and depression rehab is the safest option. Feeling depressed leads to feelings of low self-worth, self-doubt, guilt and shame. Many people who suffer from depression and alcoholism feel that admitting their problem and asking for help is a sign of weakness. It is actually the opposite of this that is true.

It takes great courage and strength to ask for help and admit that you cannot solve your problems on your own. Both depression and alcoholism are recognised as mental health illnesses that require professional evidence-based treatment.

Modern rehab centers in the UK are much more than a place to dry out. The first important step you will take in rehab is to stop drinking but how it is managed is vital to your recovery.

A rehab treatment program will start with a doctor’s assessment and prescription for medical detox. Part of that will be an anti-depressant, anti-anxiety or other mental health medication if you need it. This is your chance to stop self-medicating with alcohol and get real effective treatment.

Dual diagnosis of addiction and mental health issues is part and parcel of rehab. There is no point in treating one without the other it only continues the cycle.

As soon as you stop drinking your brain and body can start repairing themselves from the damage. Rehab also offers therapy. Time spent with a counsellor trying to work out why you feel depressed and how to change your behaviour and thought patterns to improve your situation. CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) is key and gives you the confidence to make changes and feel good about yourself again.

How to Get Help for Alcoholism and Depression

You may be unsure where to find the right rehab option for you or a loved one. Add to this the fact that depression can make us feel listless and unmotivated and you might need help finding the right rehab.

Removing the alcohol through the safety of alcohol detox is the first step to recovery from both illnesses. You should choose a rehab that specialises in alcohol recovery. You may want a rehab near you if you have strong support and connections nearby. If on the other hand, your local area is home to triggers, stressors and bad influences then rehab near you might not be the best option.

Going to rehab further away might seem more challenging but it can provide a much-needed break. Time away from difficult situations and temptation can make a big difference for both addiction and depression.

Please ensure that if you or a loved one need help for depression and alcohol that you access the correct dual diagnosis treatment. By calling us, you can find out more about our private treatment options that are available to access today.

Call our expert team on 02072052845.

Alternatively, free help and support for alcohol and depression can be sought from your GP, Alcoholics Anonymous, your local A&E department or The Samaritans.



Office for National Statistics – ONS

Public Health England

Alcohol Change UK

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcohol dependence and mental health



Author 'John


Trained in addictionology in the Johnson Model, and specializing in substance abuse for individual and couple counselling. John's personal experience has given him a wealth of insights, which he integrates into practice. His extensive training has allowed him to gain expertise in individual and group counselling, concurrent disorders, case management, executing treatment plans and relapse prevention. He started this free helpline as a result of a life change and to help others get sober and live a life free from drugs and alcohol. John covers a variety of topics relating to addiction and recovery in his articles.


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