The Link Between Depression and Alcoholism

depressed man having a beer Sometimes, drinking is only half the problem. There’s no doubt that alcohol addiction is treatable, and that you can learn how to overcome it with proper treatment. However, if the underlying issues aren’t identified and addressed early on, it can take longer to find lasting recovery. Substance abuse disorders are often tied to mental health issues such as depression. If you are a loved one is struggling with an alcohol problem, depression may be a part of the problem. Here’s how to recognize depression, and what you can do about it.

Types of depression

Depression is not simply having a low-energy day or feeling sad after something bad happens (though it can include both of these). It’s a mental health disorder characterized by a prolonged feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. Many people have trouble recognizing depression because it comes in various forms. Here are the most common types of depression: Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) is depression that lasts for a long time, at least two years. Perinatal depression is more than just the "baby blues." It’s depression that happens during pregnancy or after birth (known specifically as postpartum depression), making it incredibly difficult for the woman to do normal tasks. Psychotic depression is a severe form of depression that accompanies a form of psychosis, such as hallucinations or delusions. Seasonal affective disorder is depression that predictably occurs during the winter months. Bipolar disorder is different from clinical depression, but the disorder causes extremely low moods, called bipolar depression. Unlike depression, however, the individual also goes through periods of extremely high moods, called mania.

Signs of depression

What does depression actually entail? While the type of depression can explain the pattern of how you experience it, knowing what you’re looking for can be difficult. According to theNational Institute of Mental Health, there are some specific signs to look out for. If you experience some of these for most of the day for at least two weeks, you may be experiencing depression:
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
Depression often happens in adulthood, though it can happen to anyone at any stage of life. It can especially occur after a major life change, trauma, illness, or certain medications.

The relationship between alcohol and depression

In American culture, it’s common and accepted to use alcohol to wind down after a long day. You may be encouraged to go out for a drink after work, or binge drink at a party if you’re feeling down. Unfortunately, these behaviors are a recipe for some serious problems for someone dealing with depression. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it relaxes your body, in contrast to a stimulant drug, which raises activity in the body. This means that while alcohol might help you tune out the world and your own mind for a while, it ultimately brings you down. Alcohol makes depression worse, and can even cause depression in some instances. To complicate the matter, your body can build a tolerance to alcohol, causing you to need more and more alcohol to reach the same feeling of intoxication. This creates a downward spiral. As a depressed person drinks to cope with their depression, the alcohol ends up making them even more depressed, and they’ll need to drink even more.

"How do I know if I have an addiction to alcohol?"

When does casual drinking become a real problem? Alcohol addiction is defined as having a physical dependence on alcohol. When you stop drinking for a little while, you’ll feel the symptoms of withdrawal such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, and foggy thinking. But you don’t need to exhibit these symptoms to still have a problem with the substance. Alcohol abuse is a drinking problem that may or may not come with a physical dependence on the substance. If you’re finding yourself neglecting responsibilities because of your drinking habits and continuing to drink in spite of the negative consequences you’re seeing in your life, you may have a problem with alcohol abuse. Learn more in our article "Am I an Alcoholic? The Difference Between Casual Drinking and Alcoholism."

"Can I break the cycle?"

Yes, absolutely. Both alcoholism and depression are entirely treatable. The right doctor or treatment center can help you find freedom again and support you as you build a new, fulfilling life.

"How are alcoholism and depression treated?"

When alcoholism and depression occur together, it’s referred to as a co-occurring disorder. This is the term used whenever someone has both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. According to, it’s estimated that roughly 6 in 10 substance abusers also have at least one mental health disorder. There’s no catch-all treatment for alcoholism and depression. And unfortunately, not all doctors are experienced in identifying and treating co-occurring disorders. When seeking treatment, you’ll want to find a doctor or recovery center that can create a custom treatment plan for your specific situation.

You don’t have to face this alone

We’ve helped people in your same situation enter recovery and learn how to live fulfilling, sober lives. We want to help you, too. Reach out to one of our representatives at 844-244-3171 to learn about our treatment plans. Sources "Depression." National Institute of Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May 2016. Web. 27 May 2016. <>. "Co-occurring Disorders." SAMHSA. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 8 Mar 2016. Web. 27 May 2016. <>. Volkow, Nora D. "Addiction and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders." National Institute on Drug Abuse. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Feb 2007. Web. 27 May 2016. <>.
The Link Between Depression and Alcoholism
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The Link Between Depression and Alcoholism was last modified: September 12th, 2017 by The Recovery Village