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How Alcohol Can Affect Your Mental Health

Some people use alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism to relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, or stress. While alcohol may provide temporary relief from these symptoms, over time, it can worsen a person’s emotional state and contribute to the development of a mental health condition.1, 2

This can lead to an unhealthy cycle of alcohol misuse and can put a person at risk of experiencing several short- and long-term effects of alcohol.1 It can also lead to the development of an alcohol use disorder (AUD), the clinical diagnosis of alcohol addiction characterized by a person’s inability to control or stop drinking despite experiencing negative consequences.1, 3

If a person has an AUD and a mental health disorder at the same time, it is known as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.2 Alcohol misuse can make it more challenging to treat a mental health disorder and vice versa, which is why people with a mental health disorder are often advised to abstain from alcohol and receive integrated treatment for both.4

Because alcohol and mental health have a complex relationship, it is important to know how they can affect each other. Learn how alcohol can affect common mental health disorders below and what to do if you are struggling with alcohol, your mental health, or both.

Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Alcohol can negatively impact brain communication pathways and can impair areas of the brain that control important functions, leading to many unwanted effects.5 Some of the effects on the brain include:5, 6

  • Impaired balance.
  • Trouble walking.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Slowed movement and thinking.
  • Decreased inhibitions.
  • Impaired memory.
  • Alcohol-induced blackouts.

Alcohol can disrupt neurotransmitter systems in the brain and chronic alcohol use can lead to various brain changes, causing imbalances in neurotransmitter activity. This can result in agitation, anxiety, depression, and several other behavior and mood disorders.7, 8

Alcohol and Anxiety

Many people use alcohol to relieve symptoms of anxiety. While alcohol may provide short-term relief, it can cause or exacerbate anxiety in the long term, even in people who do not have an anxiety disorder.4 Even a single episode of excessive alcohol use can cause a person to experience anxiety-like symptoms, which can increase during periods between alcohol use, and further escalate during alcohol withdrawal.4

Alcohol use can exacerbate anxiety symptoms due to its effects on the brain and body. Consumption disrupts neurotransmitter levels, including serotonin and dopamine, which play crucial roles in mood regulation. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, especially during withdrawal periods. Additionally, alcohol can interfere with sleep patterns, further aggravating anxiety symptoms.

‘Hangxiety’, a term coined to describe the heightened feelings of anxiety experienced during a hangover, exemplifies this phenomenon. As the body metabolizes alcohol, it can trigger a rebound effect, causing a surge in anxiety levels and overall discomfort, often referred to as hangxiety.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) and anxiety disorders often occur together. Research suggests a 20 to 40% prevalence rate of AUD in people treated for an anxiety disorder.4 Other research suggests up to 50% of people who receive treatment for alcohol misuse also meet the criteria for 1 or more anxiety disorders.9 Symptoms of anxiety disorders can vary depending on the specific disorder but are characterized by excessive, recurrent fear or worry that causes significant distress.4

Alcohol and Depression

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development or worsening of mental health disorders like depression.8 Research suggests that a person’s risk of depression is at least 50% greater if they have an alcohol use disorder (AUD).10

There are different types of depressive disorders, including major depressive disorder, which is characterized by symptoms such as depressed mood, poor appetite and sleep, and suicide attempts or ideation.11 One study found that prevalence rates of co-occurring AUD and major depressive disorder range from lifetime rates of 27% to 40% and up to 22% over 12 months.4

Alcohol exacerbates depression by disrupting brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, worsening feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It may offer temporary relief but ultimately deepens depressive symptoms. Over time, tolerance builds, requiring more alcohol for the same effect, further worsening depression.

Research has also found environmental and genetic links between AUD and depression.4 Additionally, chronic alcohol use in people with depression can worsen clinical outcomes and increase the risk of longer depressive episodes, poor cognitive functioning, and suicide.4

Alcohol and Suicide

Studies show a connection between alcohol use and suicide, including behaviors and feelings that might lead to suicidal ideation. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that alcohol may increase cognitive dysfunction, dysphoria (very low mood), impulsive behavior, and the intensity of suicidal ideation.10 Research reported by the WHO also shows that people can have up to 7 times increased risk of a suicide attempt shortly after they drink alcohol; that risk further escalates to 37 times after heavy alcohol use.10

People with AUD have a 2 to 3 times increased risk of suicidal ideation, suicidal attempts, and completed suicides compared to the general population.10 Additionally, people with AUD and co-occurring mental health disorders often use alcohol more frequently, and they can have an increased risk of being hospitalized or attempting suicide if they do not receive treatment.4

Alcohol and Anger Management

According to the WHO, research has found a significant correlation between alcohol use and aggression, although this correlation can be affected by individual and contextual factors.10 Some studies show that up to 50% of men dependent on alcohol exhibit aggressive behavior. Men not dependent on alcohol but heavily intoxicated are 5 times more likely to be involved in violence.10

Alcohol exacerbates anger issues by impairing impulse control and increasing aggression. Regular use can intensify underlying problems, making individuals prone to outbursts even when sober. Effective anger management, often facilitated by mental health professionals, involves therapeutic techniques like deep breathing and communication skills to recognize and manage triggers.

Alcohol-Related Psychosis

Alcohol-related psychosis, also known as “alcoholic hallucinosis,” can develop in people who are acutely intoxicated, undergoing alcohol withdrawal, or have a history of chronic, heavy drinking.11, 12 Although rare, it can develop shortly after a person drinks heavily, and can resemble symptoms associated with schizophrenia, such as fear, hallucinations, and paranoia.12

Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome is a neurological disease that can develop due to thiamine deficiency, often as a consequence of long-term alcohol misuse.6, 13 It involves 2 conditions—Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is an acute disorder that causes confusion, paralysis of the nerves responsible for eye movement, and muscle coordination problems. Korsakoff’s psychosis can develop in the late stages of the disease.6 Korsakoff’s psychosis can be debilitating and cause brain damage leading to persistent learning and memory problems, disorientation, decreased inhibition, and confabulations (replacing memories with false information).13

Finding help for Alcohol Addiction & Mental Health

Living with anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition can be stressful. Finding ways to cope with stress without alcohol can feel overwhelming but it is essential to living a healthy, productive life. There are several coping strategies that can try such:14

  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Exercising daily.
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Practicing deep breathing or meditation.
  • Prioritizing activities that make you feel happy (e.g., reading).
  • Talking to someone.

If you are struggling with alcohol use, a mental health disorder, or both, professional help is available and the most effective in helping individuals achieve recovery. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is treatable, and there are alcohol addiction treatment programs that can help you stop drinking and find recovery while addressing any co-occurring mental health disorders.15 Treating AUD effectively requires simultaneous management of co-occurring mental health conditions. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or other disorders, addressing these issues alongside AUD is essential for comprehensive recovery. 

By integrating treatment for both substance use and mental health concerns, professional rehab services ensure that individuals receive holistic care, leading to lasting improvements in overall well-being and quality of life. Fortunately, most insurance providers cover some or all costs associated with these treatments. Admissions navigators are available to help you determine insurance coverage

Start Your Recovery Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with AUD, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at American Addiction Centers today. Our detoxification services provide safe and supervised withdrawal management, ensuring comfort and safety during this critical phase of recovery while inpatient rehabilitation offers intensive, round-the-clock care within a supportive residential environment, empowering individuals to address AUD through various therapeutic modalities tailored to their needs.

Additionally, our outpatient programs provide flexible yet comprehensive treatment options, allowing individuals to continue their daily routines while receiving therapy and support to overcome AUD and co-existing mental health concerns. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with AUD, you are not alone. AAC is a leading provider of evidence-based treatment and can answer your questions about addiction, verify your insurance, and more. Contact us today .

You can also look at the facilities listed below to see if they provide the program you are looking for:

Does Insurance Cover Alcohol Use Disorder Rehab?

For those who have insurance, using health insurance to pay for rehab should cover at least some of the cost of addiction treatment. Depending on your individual insurance plan, treatment at a specific facility may or may not be covered. It’s important that you know what is covered prior to attending a rehab. Use the free online insurance coverage checker tool below to find out if your health insurance provides coverage for addiction rehab  and other rehabilitation treatment plans for substance abuse recovery.

Coverage may vary depending on your needs and insurance plan. To find out if your policy covers spiritual or faith-based rehab, click here, or fill out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential. You can also click here to find a rehab near me.

 

 

 

 

 

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