Is There a Link Between Alcohol and Depression?

Fighting both alcohol addiction and depression can feel like climbing a mountain with a backpack full of rocks – each step is a monumental struggle and the summit seems impossibly far away. The presence of co-occurring addiction and depression can create a vicious cycle where each condition fuels the other. This can make it difficult to break the cycle of dependency and effectively treat both conditions.

However, with the right support and guidance, recovery is possible and Oasis Bradford has helped many people overcome alcohol addiction and see major improvements in the symptoms of depression.

What is the link between alcohol and depression?

Depression affects around 280 million people worldwide and is a pervasive mental health disorder characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a lack of interest in activities. It often goes hand-in-hand with alcohol addiction, contributing to a self-perpetuating cycle of drinking to escape negative feelings but ultimately having these feelings amplified by alcohol.

The symptoms of depression, which often mirror and exacerbate the struggles faced by those battling alcohol addiction, can range from mild to severe and may include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns: Depression and alcoholism often disrupt sleep patterns with those suffering from one or both conditions potentially experiencing insomnia, hypersomnia or disrupted sleep. Alcohol, while initially inducing sleep, often leads to poor sleep quality and exacerbates insomnia which is common in depression.
  • Appetite and weight fluctuations: Depression can cause significant changes in appetite, often amplified by alcohol’s effects. This can result in weight gain due to alcohol’s high caloric content or weight loss from poor nutrition habits associated with alcohol addiction.
  • Fatigue and decreased energy levels: Depression and alcohol dependence can both result in feelings of being drained, fatigued or physically exhausted. This lack of energy makes completing daily tasks or engaging in once enjoyable activities even more difficult, further feeding into a cycle of alcohol dependency or depression.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions: Cognitive functioning is notably affected by depression and is further impaired by the chronic use of alcohol. This results in difficulties focusing, remembering details or making decisions, impacting all aspects of life from work performance to the management of daily responsibilities.
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness: People suffering from depression and alcoholism frequently experience negative thoughts about themselves. These feelings of worthlessness or guilt are often self-perpetuated by the stigma and personal disappointments associated with addiction.
  • Loss of interest in activities: Both conditions can cause a person to lose interest in hobbies, social activities or other pursuits they once found enjoyable. This lack of motivation or pleasure, known as anhedonia, is often filled by an increased dependency on alcohol.
  • Persistent sadness or hopelessness: A persistent sense of sadness or hopelessness is common in depression, often leading to increased alcohol consumption as a form of self-medication. However, this only offers temporary relief and often worsens these feelings in the long run.
  • Physical symptoms: Depression and alcohol addiction can both manifest as physical symptoms, including headaches, digestive problems or chronic pain. These symptoms may not respond well to standard treatments and can be exacerbated by the physical toll of alcohol dependency.
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviour: In severe cases, depression, especially when coupled with alcohol addiction, can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. The numbing effects of alcohol can lower inhibitions, making these thoughts even more dangerous. It is crucial to seek immediate professional help if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts.


Alcohol and depression link - man experiencing sadness


Why are alcohol and depression linked?

Depression can arise from various factors, including genetic predisposition, hormonal imbalances and environmental triggers. When coupled with alcohol addiction, these factors can interact in complex and potentially harmful ways:

  • Family history of depression or other mental health disorders: Individuals with a family history of depression or other mental health conditions may be more susceptible to both depression and alcoholism due to shared genetics or environmental influences.
  • Brain chemistry imbalances: Depression has been linked to imbalances in neurotransmitters, which are further disrupted by chronic alcohol consumption. This disruption may contribute to the development of depressive symptoms and the continuation of alcohol addiction.
  • Chronic medical conditions: Long-term health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease or chronic pain, can increase the risk of both depression and alcohol addiction. The emotional and physical burden of managing a chronic illness can lead to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and potentially increased alcohol consumption as a form of self-medication.
  • Substance abuse: The use of drugs or alcohol can disrupt brain chemistry and lead to the development of depression. Alcohol addiction is notorious for perpetuating a cycle of guilt, shame and isolation, all of which contribute further to the onset of depressive symptoms.
  • Traumatic life events: Trauma, such as the loss of a loved one, physical or emotional abuse or a natural disaster, can trigger both depression and alcoholism. The emotional impact of these events can lead to increased alcohol consumption as a coping mechanism and over time, can develop into clinical depression.
  • Prolonged stress: Chronic stress, whether caused by work-related issues, relationship problems or financial concerns, can wear down an individual’s emotional and physical resilience. The combination of chronic stress and the use of alcohol as a stress reliever can significantly contribute to the development of depression.

How do depression and alcoholism exacerbate each other?

The link between alcohol and depression can be better understood by examining the following factors:

  • Self-medication: Many people with depression turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication to numb their emotional pain. While alcohol may provide temporary relief, it ultimately exacerbates depression and creates a cycle of dependency.
  • Impact on brain chemistry: Alcohol consumption affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, which are responsible for mood regulation. By disrupting the delicate balance of these chemicals, alcohol can intensify depressive symptoms and prolong recovery.
  • Interaction with antidepressants: Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of antidepressant medications, hindering treatment progress. Consuming alcohol while taking antidepressants can not only reduce their efficacy but also lead to dangerous side effects or complications.
  • Social and financial consequences: Alcohol addiction often leads to social isolation, strained relationships and financial problems – factors that commonly contribute to or worsen depression. The negative impact of alcohol on one’s personal and professional life may further exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and despair.
  • Neurotoxic effects: Chronic alcohol abuse can have neurotoxic effects on the brain, potentially causing long-term damage to brain structures involved in mood regulation. This damage can increase the risk of developing or worsening depression.

Alcohol and depression link - brain

What does effective treatment for depression and alcoholism involve?

Treating co-occurring alcohol addiction and depression is challenging due to the complex interplay between the two disorders. Addressing one without considering the other can lead to incomplete recovery and a higher risk of relapse. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can also mimic or exacerbate depressive symptoms, making it difficult to differentiate between the two.

With these challenges in mind, Oasis Bradford offers a comprehensive approach to treating addiction and depression. The main stages of recovery are:

  • Alcohol detox – This addresses the physical withdrawal from alcohol and helps you to manage withdrawal symptoms (which often include depression).
  • Alcohol rehab – This focuses on understanding the root causes of addiction (depression often being one of them) and addressing the psychological aspects of recovery. This process also involves managing depressive symptoms, ensuring a more comprehensive healing experience.
  • Aftercare – This provides ongoing support through weekly group therapy sessions to ensure you are not left to struggle alone with the transition back to everyday life or fall back into old depressive thoughts and behaviours.


Several therapies have proven effective in addressing both alcohol addiction and depression:


  • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT): DBT combines cognitive-behavioural techniques with mindfulness practices to help you develop emotional regulation skills, reduce self-destructive behaviours and improve interpersonal relationships. By teaching coping strategies to manage overwhelming emotions, DBT can address the root causes of addiction and depression, empowering you to make more informed choices about your actions and reactions.
  • Group therapy: Group therapy creates a supportive and non-judgmental environment where you can share your experiences and learn from others facing similar challenges. The group dynamic encourages open discussion and mutual support, helping you develop coping skills and strategies for managing both addiction and depression while the sense of community and shared understanding can foster personal growth and resilience.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: Mindfulness practices and meditation techniques can help you cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness, relaxation and acceptance. By learning to observe and manage stress and negative emotions associated with addiction and depression, individuals can develop healthier responses to life’s challenges. These practices can improve overall mental well-being and contribute to long-term recovery success.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy involves the participation of family members in the recovery process to address the impact of addiction and depression on relationships and facilitate healing. By working together to improve communication, establish healthy boundaries and provide mutual support, families can create a more supportive environment for their loved one’s recovery. This collaborative approach can strengthen relationships and promote lasting change for both the individual and their family.


Alcohol and depression link - woman in meditation therapy


How to get help for alcohol addiction and depression

Oasis Bradford offers comprehensive treatment for alcoholism for everyone that needs support. This includes those who are also suffering from depression. If your depression is stable, meaning you can focus on addiction treatment, we are here to help.

Our team has enormous experience in navigating the unique challenges that depression can throw up during rehab and we will ensure that you receive the support you need to achieve lasting recovery. Reach out today and take the first step towards a brighter, healthier future.

Frequently asked questions

How can I help a loved one suffering from alcohol addiction and depression?
Some ways to help a loved one suffering from depression and alcohol addiction include educating yourself about the conditions, offering non-judgmental support and empathy, encouraging them to seek professional treatment, helping them establish a support network of friends, family and professionals and encouraging healthy lifestyle changes.
Is rehab a cure for depression?
No, rehab is a treatment programme for addiction but many therapies administered in rehab can have a positive knock-on effect on depression and its symptoms. However, it is important that depression is stable before entering rehab so it cannot completely derail addiction recovery.