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Does Alcohol Affect Depression & Anxiety?

April 3rd, 2024


April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Each year, in the United States alone, 140,000 people die from misusing alcohol (NIAAA). It is estimated that in 2022 alone, more than 28.8 million people suffered from an Alcohol Use Disorder. (NIAAA).

Heavy alcohol use can also lead to many diseases and can negatively impact brain chemistry. Genetics, stressful environments, challenges coping with mental health, and a family history can put one more at risk for using alcohol at elevated levels. Keep reading to learn how alcohol affects depression and anxiety.

How Does Alcohol Affect Mental Health?

For so many, alcohol is used as a numbing agent to help cope with the stress of living in today’s world. Many are faced with burdens such as financial stress, loss and grief, difficulties managing family dynamics, and unhappiness in their careers. Others may feel sad or disappointed that they have not achieved certain life achievements that others around them have and may drink to suppress their emotions.

Regardless of the reason for using alcohol, it is important to understand how using alcohol can negatively affect the brain. Alcohol is classified as a depressant. Depressants reduce overall stimulation and functional activity in the brain.

How Does Alcohol Affect Anxiety & Depression?

Depression and alcohol can be tricky to navigate. Some who experience depression may self-medicate by drinking alcohol to feel less sadness or emptiness. For others, alcohol may result in one feeling more depressed. It is important to recognize the potential health concerns of mixing alcohol with other substances such as prescription medications.

When one mixes alcohol and antidepressants, for instance, they may experience side effects such as drowsiness, decreased alertness, and insomnia, among other symptoms. Alcohol use and antidepressants can also cause one to be intoxicated more quickly, due to how the body breaks down alcohol. Alcohol can also cause one to be more emotional and in their feelings, which can lead to heightened feelings of sadness.

Alcohol can also negatively impact one’s anxiety. For some, they may see alcohol as a lubricant to aid in social situations. It can help them to feel more relaxed, less tense, and more comfortable around others.

When an individual has anxiety, their symptoms can worsen with alcohol use. Alcohol can be a band-aid solution for those struggling with anxiety, providing a short-term solution to a long-term issue. It does not address the root causes of anxiety, nor does it erase one’s triggers. It should be acknowledged that chronically using alcohol can impact various parts of the brain, such as the amygdala. The Amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for decision-making.

Alcohol use can affect this area of the brain and how it perceives negative stimuli, impacting the Amygdala’s Flight or Fight response. (Gorka, 2013). When one is coming off the high from the alcohol or experiencing a hangover, their anxiety may become heightened, leading to nervousness, worries, or dread. This is due to the various neurotransmitters in the brain fluctuating.

How to Cope With Anxiety & Depression Without Alcohol

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to coping with anxiety and depression. For some, regular structure and routine can help to decrease symptoms. Others may find consistent exercise to give them similar relief that may be provided by consuming alcohol. Exercise can vary from running, to weightlifting, to fitness classes, biking, etc.

Another way of coping with mental health struggles is regular integration of mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. A few examples of mindful activities include yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises.

Monitoring sleep hygiene and diet may also provide some relief to depression and anxiety symptoms. Finally, having a support network is crucial. Please note, that these are just a few healthy coping alternatives to consider, and this is not an exhaustive list.

How Can I Support a Loved One Dealing with Alcohol, Depression, and Anxiety?

Supporting a loved one dealing with alcohol, depression, and anxiety can be challenging, but your support can make a significant difference in their journey towards recovery. Here are some compassionate and effective ways you can offer your support:

  • Educate Yourself: Take the time to understand alcohol dependence, depression, and anxiety. Recognizing the symptoms and challenges associated with these conditions can help you offer more empathetic and informed support.
  • Listen Without Judgment: Create a safe space where your loved one feels comfortable sharing their feelings and experiences. Listen attentively and without judgment, showing them that they are not alone in their struggle.
  • Encourage Professional Help: Gently suggest the idea of seeking professional help, emphasizing the importance of treating both mental health issues and alcohol dependency. Offer to help research therapists, rehabilitation centers, or support groups.
  • Offer Practical Help: Sometimes, practical support like accompanying them to appointments, helping with daily tasks, or just spending time together can reduce feelings of isolation and stress.
  • Set Boundaries: It's essential to set healthy boundaries for your well-being. Be clear about what you can and cannot do, and seek support for yourself if needed.
  • Stay Informed About Treatment Options: Familiarize yourself with different treatment options and recovery paths so you can discuss these with your loved one when they're ready.
  • Promote Healthy Habits: Encourage activities that support mental and physical health, such as exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep. Engaging in activities together can also strengthen your bond.
  • Be Patient and Stay Positive: Recovery is a process that takes time. Celebrate small victories, remain patient, and maintain a hopeful outlook to inspire your loved one.

If you or someone that you care about is struggling with alcohol or substance use, there are many resources to help. There are various self-help groups for one to get involved in including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, and Dharma Recovery. As a loved one of someone who has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it can be difficult to help them navigate their journey.

Groups such as Al-Anon can help one to get the extra support they need as well. At Clarity Clinic, we have clinicians across our 7 locations who are certified in treating substance misuse (CADC- Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors). There are also Early Recovery Groups for those first beginning their journey toward recovery.

Additionally, it could be beneficial to consider seeking medication management options from one of our psychiatry providers. Medications such as Naltrexone, Disulfiram, and Acamprosate are some of the most prescribed medications used in treating alcohol dependence. When you feel ready to take the first step, Clarity Clinic is here to help.

The Best Addiction Treatment Center

Clarity Clinic is the best mental health clinic near you. At Clarity, we’re dedicated to offering unparalleled support and treatment for those facing the challenges of addiction, alongside a wide range of other mental health concerns, right here in Chicago.

Our approach is rooted in understanding, compassion, and the latest therapeutic methods to ensure you or your loved ones receive the highest quality care in a welcoming environment. Whether you're battling addiction or navigating the complexities of depression, Clarity Clinic is here to guide you through every step of your journey towards recovery and healing.

We offer group therapy, family therapy, couples therapy, adult therapy, child therapy, adult psychiatry, child psychiatry, psychological testing, TMS therapy, PHP/IOP programs, and more. Visit one of our clinics located in the Chicago Loop, River North, Lakeview - Belmont, Lakeview - Broadway, Evanston, Arlington Heights, and Mokena.

Don't let addiction control your life any longer. Book a consultation today, and take the first step on your path to wellness. Together, we can achieve clarity, recovery, and a renewed sense of hope.

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Related Readings:

Alcohol, Depression, & Anxiety: Commonly Asked Questions


  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
  • Gorka, Stephanie M et al. “Alcohol attenuates amygdala-frontal connectivity during processing social signals in heavy social drinkers: a preliminary pharmaco-fMRI study.” Psychopharmacology vol. 229,1 (2013): 141-54. doi:10.1007/s00213-013-3090-0

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