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Alcohol & Health
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Updated on July 25, 2023
6 min read

Understanding the Impact of Alcohol on Mental Health

Alcohol and Mental Health Effects

A co-occurring disorder is when an individual receives a dual diagnosis for both a substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health disorder. 

The co-occurrence of alcohol and mental health disorders is prevalent in the U.S. One in four adults with a mental health disorder also suffers from alcohol use disorder (AUD). Both conditions have similar underlying causes, such as:

  • A genetic predisposition to alcohol
  • Stress, trauma, and other mental health issues
  • Environmental factors, such as early exposure to alcohol
  • Changes in brain chemistry

Unfortunately, many people with underlying mental health conditions turn to substance use. They may do so to self-medicate and alleviate the negative feelings associated with their mental illnesses.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), formerly known as alcoholism, is an unhealthy form of alcohol use, including regularly drinking excessively and binge drinking.

Symptoms of AUD

While not all symptoms may manifest in one person, a person with AUD may experience some of the symptoms listed below.

  • Being unable to limit alcohol consumption
  • Drinking alone
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Continuing to drink even when it causes physical, emotional, or social problems
  • Giving up once-loved activities to keep drinking
  • Inability to stop drinking, despite knowing its negative side effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from drinking
  • Developing mental health disorders associated with substance abuse
  • Drinking more alcohol to achieve the same results

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The Link Between Alcohol Abuse and Mental Health

People with substance use problems are predisposed to mental health disorders. Because alcohol is a depressant, it can trigger symptoms in those predisposed to depression.

Those with existing mental health conditions may also use alcohol to self-medicate. When symptoms of mental health disorders escalate, alcohol provides a quick mood boost and relieves symptoms temporarily. But once the effects wear off, the symptoms worsen, creating a vicious cycle of drinking and mood changes. 

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Mood?

Alcohol and mood swings can be linked to each other. Drinking alcohol increases confidence and decreases inhibition. However, alcohol affects everyone differently. 

You may experience mood swings, such as increased euphoria or depression. Excessive alcohol consumption to the point of alcohol abuse can also disrupt your sleep cycle, leading to poor sleep quality and mood problems.

Overall, the effects of alcohol can lead to:

  • Constant mood swings
  • A mood disorder
  • Poor concentration

Those who drink heavily also experience "numb" emotions, making them feel apathetic and uninterested when not drinking. 


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Risks of Alcohol Abuse on Mental Health

Turning to alcohol rather than coping with your mental health problems can worsen your mental state and overall well-being.

Heavy drinking can result in dire consequences, such as:

  • Alcoholic mood swings, such as irritability and aggressive behavior
  • Long-term physical health problems
  • A higher risk of worsening mental illness
  • Suicidal thoughts, ideation, or attempts
  • Alcohol dependence 
  • Alcohol withdrawal

Alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder requires professional help and can worsen without proper mental health care. Left untreated can lead to dangerous and potentially life-threatening side effects.


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Alcohol & Mood Disorders

The U.S. has a high co-occurrence of alcohol abuse and mental health disorders. Certain mental health disorders are highly prevalent in people who have alcohol dependence. 

These include mood disorders like:

  • Depression, including major depressive disorder and bipolar depression 
  • Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Mood disorders

Mood disorders are the most common mental health disorders among people with alcohol use disorder (AUD).


Depression affects over 16 million adults in the U.S. every year.14 This condition negatively affects how one feels, thinks, and handles daily activities.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • A continuous sad or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Increased irritability
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or social activities
  • Decreased energy
  • Problems with concentration and memory
  • Changes in sleep
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

People who struggle with depression can be highly susceptible to substance abuse since drugs and alcohol can temporarily improve mood.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes mood swings ranging from manic highs to depressive lows. These mood swings can affect everything, from sleep and energy levels to a person’s ability to think clearly.

A significant correlation exists between bipolar disorder and alcohol use, with a higher prevalence observed among individuals with bipolar disorder. 

Symptoms of bipolar disorder depend on whether it's manic or depressive.

Mania or Hypomania Symptoms:

  • Abnormally upbeat and jumpy
  • A major increase in activity levels
  • Agitation
  • High level of self-confidence
  • Very talkative
  • Easily distracted
  • Poor decision-making

Depressive Symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest
  • Sleep changes, insomnia, or continual sleeping
  • Loss of energy and fatigue
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a normal part of life. However, those with anxiety disorders experience frequent, intense episodes of fear about everyday situations. These fears can affect daily activities and make life very difficult.

Symptoms of anxiety disorders include:

  • Regular feelings of nervousness and restlessness
  • A sense of impending danger
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stomach problems

There are also many different anxiety disorders, such as: 

  • Generalized anxiety
  • Social anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic disorder


Schizophrenia is a complex and severe mental health condition characterized by disruptions in perception, thinking, emotions, and behavior that affect how a person interprets reality.

People with schizophrenia may experience hallucinations, delusions, and impaired thinking that can be disabling. It is one of the top 15 causes of disability worldwide.

While substance abuse is common in people with schizophrenia, alcohol abuse dramatically increases the risk of schizophrenia in those predisposed to the condition. 

Symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Abnormal motor behavior
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Lack of emotion
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Unpredictable agitation

How is Treatment for Mental Health Disorders and Substance Abuse Different?

Treatment for co-occurring conditions presents unique challenges. Treating only one condition may worsen the other and can increase the occurrence of relapse.

Those who suffer from mental health disorders and substance abuse require specialized treatment. Treatment should also take place in a facility experienced in treating co-occurring conditions.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

A treatment program typically begins with a detox because symptoms of addiction often mimic those of mental health conditions. By detoxing first, medical providers can evaluate what symptoms are alcohol-related. 

Once the detox is complete, treatment will focus on the mental health condition. The treatment process may include: 

  • Medication: Involves using medicinal drugs like naltrexone and disulfiram to treat addiction
  • Counseling: Helps you recognize and identify triggers for alcohol use as well as how to manage cravings
  • Behavioral therapy: A short-term therapy technique exploring the link between thought patterns and addiction
  • Peer Support Groups: Provide a much-needed community to help maintain sobriety after treatment
Updated on July 25, 2023
14 sources cited
Updated on July 25, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
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  2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. “Anxiety Disorders.” Mayo Clinic, 2018.
  3. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. “Bipolar Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, 2018.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.
  5. Petrakis et al. “Comorbidity of Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2002.
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, 2023.
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Major Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, 2022.
  8. Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders.” SAMHSA, 2023.
  9. Newman, T. “Schizophrenia risk increased with alcohol, drug abuse.” Medical News Today, 2016.
  10. Quello et al. “Mood Disorders and Substance Use Disorder: A Complex Comorbidity.” Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 2005.
  11. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. “Schizophrenia.” Mayo Clinic, 2020.
  12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Schizophrenia.” National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.
  13. Smith et al.. “Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders: Comorbidity and Treatment Considerations.” Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 2012.
  14. Mental Health Conditions: Depression and Anxiety.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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