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Alcohol, Depression, Mental Illness and Sobriety

According to a global survey in 2018, more than 107 million people struggle with alcohol abuse; 1/3 of these also suffer from a psychiatric disorder. (Source: Alcohol Rehab Guide), like depression or bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence also induces a chemical imbalance in the brain – leading to a risk of mental illness. [1]

The overlapping connection between alcoholism and mental health makes it hard to quit alcohol as many cannot tolerate withdrawal and relapse. Studies have shown that long-term alcohol abuse can cause brain impairment, emotional instability, and worsen depression. [2]

Getting professional help to achieve sobriety may help you win the battle against alcohol abuse and depression.

Alcohol Abuse And Mental Health 

People usually drink alcohol to indulge, release stress and overcome negative emotions. For many, drinking serves as an escape from day to day problems – eventually leading to addiction, becoming alcoholics. 

Some triggering factors for alcohol dependence are:

  • Emotional breakdown 
  • Emotional distress
  • Financial struggle
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Mental relapse
  • Mental health disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety

Symptoms And Side Effects 

Apart from the adverse effects on personal life, people with a drinking problem are at risk of serious health concerns – weight gain, pancreatitis, heart and liver disease, to name a few. 

Besides affecting the chemical imbalance, over-drinking changes the brain itself. Thus, alcohol abuse also affects cognitive performance

Here are the side effects of long-term drinking on the human brain:

  • Slows Central Nervous System Alcohol slows down messages between the brain and the body, eventually slowing down your central nervous system.[3]
  • Ventral striatum – This part of the brain gets damaged and reduces the feel-good chemical (dopamine), causing mood swings and depression. [5]

Relationship Between Alcohol And Depression

Alcohol abuse can often result in other conditions like substance abuse, drug addiction, and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. 

On the other hand, mental health problems can also encourage alcohol abuse. Studies show that 47% of people with mental health issues also abuse alcohol and drugs. (Source: Boardwalk Recovery Centre)

Co-occurring Disorders

Alcohol and depression are often co-occurring, meaning the two disorders coincide and intertwine towards a bigger issue. 

Common symptoms of depression in early sobriety include:

  • Overthinking and cycling negative thoughts 
  • Insomnia and restlessness
  • Difficulty getting out of bed
  • Feeling anxious and fearful 
  • Chronic pains, lethargy, and immense fatigue
  • Poor eating habits (loss of appetite or overeating)
  • Inability to focus and pay attention 

Types of Depression in Sobriety 

For a dual diagnosis, it’s essential to know what type of depression it is. Here are the types of depression in early sobriety:

Impact of Sobriety/Quitting Alcohol on Depression

Depression in early recovery may occur in rare cases, but some also experience Day drunk syndrome – reflecting impulsive and dysfunctional alcoholic behaviors even after quitting alcohol. 

Bill W, the founder of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step program, says it is not uncommon to experience intense depression during early sobriety. 

According to research, the first two months of sobriety are the hardest. The body detoxes while the brain tries to regain homeostasis. (Source: ES Detox)

How Sobriety Helps Depression

  • Regulates Excitatory Neurotransmitters 

Alcohol affects neurotransmitters – particularly gamma and glutamate. Drinking weakens glutamate and over-excites the GABA receptors, making the body feel more relaxed and happier. 

Quitting alcohol dependence reverses these changes and regulates the neurotransmitters, putting the body in its natural state. 

  • Normalizes Dopamine Levels 

Alcohol abuse imbalances dopamine (feel-good hormone) secretions in the brain. Alcohol over-stimulates dopamine and reduces the brain’s dopamine receptors – leading to a false state of ‘high.’ 

Thus, when you quit drinking, you start feeling sad and depressed due to the reduction in dopamine. Over time the brain begins to normalize dopamine levels. 

  • Serotonin Production Increases

Alcohol boosts serotonin, but the long-term heavy consumption of alcohol decreases serotonin, leading to depression symptoms. Quitting alcohol normalizes serotonin production, leading to better emotional health. 

How To Quit Alcohol and Treat Depression?

Want to develop an alcohol-free lifestyle and achieve long-term sobriety? Quit. 

Quitting is the only way to treat and get rid of alcohol addiction. Joining AA meetings and reaching a professional for help. Since alcohol affects the mind, get help from a professional Psychiatrist

An alcohol addiction psychiatrist will diagnose and treat the causes of alcohol abuse and alcoholism by:

  • evaluating your mental health
  • finding the triggering factor
  • recommending effective treatment options 
  • assisting with the treatment 

When it comes to dual diagnosis, i.e., suffering from both depression and alcoholism. Such issues have to be treated separately but under interconnected conditions. 

Here are proven-effective treatments for alcohol-induced depression. 

  • Metacognitive Therapy
  • Holistic Therapies
  • Antidepressant Medication 
  • Support Groups e.g. Annie Grace this Naked Mind community



  1. Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders by Ramesh Shivani, M.D., R. Jeffrey Goldsmith, M.D., and Robert M. Anthenelli, M.D. 2002. Retrieved from:
  2. Cognitive and emotional consequences of binge drinking: role of amygdala and prefrontal cortex by David N Stephens and Theodora Duka. 2008. Retrieved from:
  3. Alcoholism and its effects on the central nervous system by Sukhes Mukherjee. 2013. Retrieved from:
  4. Prefrontal Limbic-Striatal Circuits and Alcohol Addiction in Humans by Dongju Seo and Rajita Sinha. 2014. Retrieved from:
  5. Striatal Involvement In Human Alcoholism And Alcohol Consumption, And Withdrawal In Animal Models by Gang Chen, Verginia C. Cuzon Carlson, Jun Wang, Anne Beck, Andreas Heinz, Dorit Ron, David M. Lovinger, and Kari J. Buck. 2011. Retrieved from:
  6. Alcohol And The Prefrontal Cortex by Kenneth Abernathy, L. Judson Chandler, and John J. Woodward. 2013. Retrieved from:
  7. The role of the orbitofrontal cortex in alcohol use, abuse, and dependence by David E. Moorman. 2019. Retrieved from:
  8. Dealing With Depression in Early Recover:
  9. Why You’re Depressed in Early Sobriety:
  10. Sober But Miserable? You Could Have Dry Drunk Syndrome:
  11. How To Manage Sobriety If You Are Suffering from Depression?
  12. Depression and Sobriety:
  13. 5 Ways Quitting Drinking Affects Your Brain:
  14. Alcohol Recovery and Depression: Why You (May) Feel Depressed After Quitting Drinking:


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