Contributed by: Healthians Team


Alcoholism and depression are vicious pairings that can be difficult to overcome. The relationship between the two is extremely complex and intertwined.

On one hand, alcohol can exacerbate depression and depressive symptoms. On the other hand, people that suffer from severe depression may find that alcohol may temporarily numb uncomfortable emotions because alcohol temporarily blocks certain nerve activity within the brain.

However, these feelings of euphoria don’t last forever, and once they wear off, the individual is left with worse depressive symptoms than before.

Subsequently, they’ll drink even more in an attempt to combat their depressive symptoms, but over time, this can develop into a full-blown alcohol use disorder.

This phenomenon is referred to as a “self-medicating cycle,” and it’s one of the most common ways in which alcoholism and depression are linked. 

The good news is that treating both alcohol abuse and depression can make both conditions better.

As one improves, symptoms of the other may noticeably improve, too. 

Let’s have a look at some of the most common symptoms of each.

Alcohol use and depression symptoms

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • Feeling worthless or pessimistic
  • Persistent low mood
  • Feelings of sadness, anxiousness or emptiness
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Loss of interest in routine activities
  • Lack of energy to complete essential tasks
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Feeling of guilt
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts

Symptoms of alcohol use disorder may include:

  • Continually obsessing over alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite detrimental consequences to physical health and personal relationships
  • Continued drinking despite depressive symptoms 
  • Not remembering things that happened
  • Drinking more or longer than planned
  • Feeling irritable or cranky without alcohol
  • Giving up activities for alcohol
  • Having repeated problems at work, relationships or the law because of too much drinking
  • Having the urge to drink more and more to get the same effect
  • Inability to control drinking more and more

Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Depression & Alcoholism

Unless you have a health concern that stops you from drinking, it usually won’t hurt to enjoy a glass of wine or beer once in a while for social purposes.

However, if you find yourself turning to alcohol to get through the day, or if it causes problems in your relationships, at work, in your social life, or with how you think and feel, you have a more significant problem.

Research has shown that regardless of the order of which came first, there seems to be a bidirectional relationship between alcohol use disorder and depressive disorders.

Both disorders can exist together, each disorder increases the risk for the other disorder, and each disorder can worsen the symptoms of the other.

Remember, both disorders are among the most prevalent psychiatric disorders, however, treatment can be effective. 

Alcoholism and depression are both important issues that should not be overlooked.

Consult your doctor or a psychologist if you believe you have a problem with either. A dual diagnosis can be complicated to treat, and it often includes an integrated approach to simultaneously address both alcohol use disorder and depression.

Treatment options can range from anti-depressants to help treat both the depression and some symptoms of alcoholism to behavioural therapies like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Behavioural Activation etc.

Final thoughts

You don’t have to fight depression alone, and turning to drinks to feel better can just make things worse.

Make an appointment with a mental health practitioner to discuss therapeutic interventions designed to address both issues.

Begin your recovery journey with commitment so that you or your loved one can take back control of your mental health, physical wellbeing, and overall happiness in the long term.

Besides counselling and seeking help from a mental health professional, you should also opt for regular health checkups. These tests can help you understand the effects of alcohol and depression on your body, thus enabling and even encouraging you to take preventive measures for a healthy you.