How Can Alcohol Abuse and Depression Co-Occur?

Approximately 17.3 million adults in the United States have had at least one major depressive episode. 

No one knows what to expect from depression until they find themselves depressed. They may have thought it would only be feelings of sadness. They then find themselves lying awake at night and turning to other things, such as alcohol, in an attempt to fill a void. 

Unfortunately, alcohol abuse is common among individuals diagnosed with depression. And on the other side of the same coin, depression is common among those who suffer from alcoholism. 

Explaining Depression and Alcohol Abuse

To better understand the link between the abuse of alcohol and depression, we’ll first separately explain the two. 


Depression is a major mood disorder that brings along prolonged feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in things you once enjoyed.

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) states an individual must be experiencing at least 5 symptoms of depression for 2 weeks in order to be diagnosed. One symptom must be either having a depressed mood or a loss of interest.

Other symptoms include:

  • inability to sleep
  • a major shift in weight
  • daily fatigue
  • suicidal ideation 
  • excessive shame and guilt

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse occurs when a person drinks large amounts of alcohol despite negative consequences.

A recent study revealed 14.5 million people in the US struggled with alcohol abuse. Many of these individuals struggling with substance abuse became dependent on alcohol to carry out daily functions.

Alcoholism increases an individual’s chance of heart disease, liver failure, cancer, injuries, and risky sexual behavior. 

Alcohol abuse symptoms one may notice include:

  • constant sweating
  • frequent blackouts
  • mood swings
  • anxiety and/or guilt
  • cravings for alcohol

How Are the Two Linked? 

Keep in mind that correlation doesn’t equal causation. Someone isn’t required to consume large amounts of alcohol to be depressed or have depression to abuse alcohol. 

However, depression and alcohol abuse find themselves hand-in-hand more often than not. 

Many individuals with depression struggle with feelings of numbness. They often turn towards self-destructive habits to bridge a gap in their emotions. This is why risky sexual behavior, self-harm, and substance abuse are common among those diagnosed with depression. 

Depressed individuals may also turn to numbing substances, such as marijuana and alcohol, to reduce the emotional pain. Brief moments of numbness quickly become addictive.

Serious looking man drinking liquor

Alcohol’s Effects on the Body and Brain

Because alcohol is a depressant, individuals who suffer from alcohol abuse may start to experience depression. Drinking causes fluctuations in the brain’s natural levels of dopamine and serotonin. 

A long night or day of drinking brings on feelings of anxiety, depression, and guilt. Guilt is especially common in individuals who act out in anger when drunk. 

Depending too much on alcohol also inhibits your mind from turning to healthy coping mechanisms. A depression alcoholism cycle can have you reaching for another drink instead of practicing mindfulness, breathing exercises, or other healthy hobbies. 

If you drink too much, you’ll also notice an inability to sleep. Not enough sleep will leave you feeling irritable and/or sad. 

Available Treatment Options

Because of how closely alcohol and depression are linked, it’s best for an individual to seek treatment options that address both areas of struggle. Finding a treatment option that best suits an individual’s lifestyle and level of concern is crucial.

Recovery from alcoholism is possible, and there are plenty of resources to relieve even the nastiest symptoms of depression. 

In-Patient Rehab

In-patient rehab is best for those struggling with alcoholism, depression, and suicide ideation. It’s also important for individuals living in an unhealthy and triggering environment.

Many in-patient rehab centers focus on a holistic approach to recovery, focusing both on the body and mind. A patient often attends therapy, group therapy, and doctor’s appointments to guarantee they’re on the road to recovery. 

Because in-patient rehab requires living within a facility, the patient will have round-the-clock support from nurses, therapists, and other medical staff. This is crucial if the patient is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Psychotherapy is what one may picture as typical talk therapy. There are many techniques of therapy, such as CBT and DBT, under the major umbrella of psychotherapy. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a technique that’s used by many therapists and has been found to be helpful when treating patients with depression and alcohol abuse. 

This type of therapy focuses on battling negative thoughts that lead to negative actions. By getting to the root of the issue and replacing bad thoughts with healthy thoughts, we can start to change our behavioral patterns. 

Someone receiving CBT may start to replace drinking with healthier coping mechanisms. They’ll also start practicing healthier self-talk and nurturing to better resist urges. 

Plus, having an available therapist is great for accountability. When seeing a therapist for alcohol abuse and/or depression, it’s important to remain open and honest about your experience. 

The Link Between Alcohol Abuse and Depression

Alcohol abuse and depression are both common struggles for today’s individuals. While the two may remain separate, there’s a common link between alcohol consumption and depressive symptoms. 

Those diagnosed with depression often turn to self-destructive habits such as drinking or self-harm. Individuals who have become dependent on alcohol often face feelings of extreme anxiety and depression. Thankfully, recovery is possible. 

Are you or someone you know struggling from depression and/or alcohol abuse? Inland Detox offers a variety of treatment options. Browse the rest of our site to see which therapies we offer, and contact us today to start your new journey.