The Relationship Between Depression and Alcohol

An interdependence exists between depression and alcohol. For some people, depression occurs first, and alcohol is used to self-medicate or try to escape the relentless effects of depression. In other cases, chronic alcoholism can lead to depression. In both circumstances, however, having a co-occurring disorder leaves you worse off than when you started. This relationship between alcohol and depression can be difficult to live with and difficult to recover from.

When Alcohol Abuse Leads to Depression

If you struggle with chronic alcoholism, you already know what happens when you drink alcohol every day. In addition to creating a dependence upon or addiction to alcohol, there can be long-lasting emotional and physical effects, including depression. This is more than just the psychology of addictions, in which changes in your brain are the source of the chemical addiction.

Abusing alcohol causes other changes emotionally and mentally to the point that the chemical makeup in your brain also causes depression. This happens when serotonin levels are impacted by production, overproduction or the lack of proper neurotransmission of serotonin in the brain. Like chronic alcoholism, though, depression is a chemical issue in the brain, not just an emotional reaction or constant sadness.

Why Those Who Are Depressed Abuse Alcohol

Those who are depressed may not be aware of proper medical treatment for depression, they may not want to seek appropriate treatment, or they may not even realize that they are depressed. When there is a chemical malfunction in your brain, you are often the last to realize it.

In these scenarios, people often turn to alcohol to numb the pain, to forget the problems, to self-medicate for something they do not entirely understand or realize is a treatable condition. Self-medication is a dangerous treatment method, because it is not medically supervised, and can actually make the depression and/or alcohol abuse worse. However, it is difficult to self-diagnose, and stigma and a lack of education often prevent the proper treatment for depression ahead of alcohol abuse. 

Complications of Co-Occurring Depression and Alcohol Abuse

Depression and alcohol abuse often stems from the same risk factors, such as trauma, family history, poverty and more. When co-occurring diagnoses are present, symptoms of both substance abuse and depression are worsened. Some of the symptoms that increase in severity when alcohol abuse and depression coexist include:

  • Inability to concentrate or impaired cognitive function
  • Sleep disturbances, restlessness
  • More intense mood changes
  • Changes in brain function
  • Increased risk of anxiety or panic attacks
  • Increased physical health issues such as liver and heart problems, eating disorders, etc.
  • Increased suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts

Simultaneous Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Learning how to beat addictions becomes more complicated when there is a co-occurring disorder such as depression. Simply treating the depression alone or alcohol on its own is not enough. The two conditions are intertwined and thus need simultaneous treatment to be effective. In fact, treating one without the other can actually lead to worse symptoms and outcomes.

Because both depression and alcoholism cause changes in the brain and its chemistry, treatment is needed to address both chronic alcoholism and depression at the same time when both disorders are present. There are many forms of treatment that can ensure a successful outcome when you seek simultaneous alcohol addiction recovery and treatment for depression. Some of these forms of treatment include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other therapy by licensed therapists
  • Appropriate medications or other treatments as prescribed by medical doctors
  • Improved diet and exercise
  • Education about both disorders
  • Intense residential or outpatient treatment for substance abuse and depression
  • Participation in 12-step or other recovery programs

Healing Together to Prevent Relapse

When only the depression is treated, patients have a tendency to increase alcohol consumption. When only the substance abuse is treated, the depression symptoms can worsen. By entering alcohol addiction recovery and treating the depression simultaneously, you offer yourself the best odds to recover from both chronic alcoholism and depression. Within the psychology of addictions, there are also changes in the brain that lead to depression. By healing both together, you increase your chances of successful recovery from both, while also decreasing your chances of relapse. 

Seeking treatment for co-occurring disorders is more successful because the treatment looks at the root causes of both conditions, and offers help and healing for the body, mind and soul. This is not only how to beat addictions, but also how to heal from depression and live the life you were meant to have.


Depression and alcohol abuse have similar risk factors and origins. You may have depression first or alcohol abuse first, but once they both exist together, it is important to treat them together. Alcohol addiction recovery combined with appropriate medical treatment for depression can help you to heal more completely and lower the risks of relapse. DiscoveryMD has plenty of experience treating co-occurring disorders. Our rehab treatment centers offer simultaneous treatment for both chronic alcoholism and depression. Contact us today to begin your healing from co-occurring depression and alcohol abuse. Take control of your life again and live the happy, productive life that everyone deserves.

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