The Link Between Alcohol And Depression - Rehab Guide

The Link Between Alcohol And Depression

Depression and alcohol abuse tend to go hand in hand. When an individual presents themselves to a doctor, it can be very difficult for the doctor to determine if the depression is as a result of heavy drinking or the cause. It very much becomes a ”chicken and egg” scenario.

It may be that the individual developed depression and turned to self-medicating with alcohol to make themselves feel better. This may have worked for a while, but ultimately alcohol abuse will only exacerbate the problem in the long run.

On the other hand, the individual may have been abusing alcohol for some time and as a direct result has developed depression.

There is only one way to find out which came first. In a depressed individual suffering from alcoholism/alcohol abuse, removing the alcohol from the equation will reveal the true nature of any underlying mental health illness. In an individual that is alcohol dependent, a medical alcohol detox will be required to ensure that this process is conducted safely.

What Causes Depression?

Harvard Medical School state that the cause of depression is often more complex than a chemical imbalance in the brain and that there are many reasons and factors that can contribute to an individual developing depression.

Research suggests that there are many possible causes to the manifestation of depression in a person. These causes include :

  • Genetic vulnerability – A history of depression or mental health illness in the family
  • Chemical imbalance – Lack of dopamine/serotonin production in the brain
  • Stressful life events – E.g bereavement /illness/redundancy/relationship break down
  • Medications – Certain medications can cause mood swings and chemical imbalances
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse – Repeated abuse of drugs and alcohol causes the brain to stop producing feel-good chemicals on its own.
  • Trauma – Trauma can cause chemical changes to the brain if not treated promptly and correctly
  • Hormonal imbalance – Pregnancy and birthing can cause huge hormonal imbalances and surges that severely affect mood.

There are numerous reasons as to why an individual could develop depression and sometimes there is seemingly no reason at all. This can be very frustrating for an individual who to others appears to “have it all”.

Alcohol and Dopamine Levels

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can cause depression in an individual as can drug abuse. Alcohol is a depressant drug, which means that it lowers and suppresses neurotransmitter activity in the brain. An individual who drinks frequently is likely to become lethargic, unmotivated, depressed and anxious.

Alcohol initially can cause the effect of euphoria in an individual 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 to manifest.

Once an individual is alcohol dependent, they can become unable to feel any pleasure at all unless they are intoxicated. Their brain becomes reliant on the alcohol to trigger the release of dopamine (mother natures feel-good chemical and emotional regulator)

alcohol and depression

Scan images of healthy brain v addicted brain

The good news is that in the vast majority of 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.

If you or a loved one are suffering from depression and alcohol abuse and want information on our private inpatient alcohol detox clinics, please call us today.

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, who are 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.

alcohol and depression

Many struggling with an alcohol problem and depression 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 as a matter of urgency.

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.

Asking For Help

Depression 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.

Treatment For Alcoholism and Depression

For an individual that suffers from depression and is drinking heavily, alcohol will only compound the negative feelings. Alcohol also stops any antidepressant medication from working effectively.

Removing the alcohol through the safety of an alcohol detox is the first step to recovery from both illnesses.

Once the alcohol has been stopped the individual can then be accurately assessed and undergo a comprehensive treatment programme. Our detox clinics and rehab centres offer simultaneous treatment for both alcohol and depression. Leaving one illness untreated inevitably leads to a relapse of the other illness.

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.

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 – call 116 123



Office for National Statistics – ONS

Public Health England

Alcohol Change UK

Alcoholics Anonymous




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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