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How Does Alcohol Affect Mental Health?

Alcohol abuse and addiction can often be correlated. Learn about alcohol and mental health, its effects, and treatment options.

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Abuse of alcohol and mental health issues can often go hand in hand. This article will explore how alcohol can affect mental health and discuss some of the consequences of abusing alcohol. We will also provide information on seeking help if you struggle with an alcohol use disorder and a mental health condition. Alcohol is a depressant. While the depressant properties of drinking alcohol may not affect someone too much in the short-term, excessive consumption of alcohol or long-term abuse can negatively affect someone’s life and mental health.1 Frequent and excessive drinking can lead to symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses. It may exacerbate any existing mental health issues.

Alcohol and Mental Health Statistics

Statistics on alcohol and mental health show just how severe of a problem co-occurring conditions of mental health and alcohol use disorders can be. According to a research report from the Mental Health Foundation:
  • Research in the U.S. has suggested that alcohol dependence in those with psychiatric disorders is almost twice as high as in the general population.
  • As many as 65% of suicides have been linked to excessive drinking, and alcohol problems are one of the highest risk factors for suicides.
  • At least two-thirds of alcohol-dependent individuals entering treatment show evidence of anxiety, sadness, depression, or manic-like symptoms.2
The combination of alcoholism and mental illness is prevalent and can have many adverse effects on someone’s life. This is why proper treatment and support for those struggling with alcohol abuse and mental health is so important.

Do All Alcoholics Have Mental Health Issues?

While there is a strong link between co-occurring alcohol and mental health problems, not all alcoholics will have mental health issues. Alcoholism can occur for several reasons that are unrelated to mental health, including:
  • Injuries or physical health issues
  • Growing up in an environment where heavy alcohol use is common
  • Peer pressure
  • Genetic factors
Since many contributing factors can lead to alcoholism, treatment professionals should consider all aspects of someone’s life and well-being when providing treatment for alcohol addiction.

Alcohol and Mental Health: How Does Alcohol Affect Mental Health?

Alcohol abuse can affect someone’s mental health and well-being in many ways.

Alcohol and Depression

One of the primary forms of co-occurring alcoholism and mental illness is those who struggle with alcohol abuse and depression. Alcohol is a depressant that can slow down the brain’s cognitive functions. This can lead to symptoms of depression occurring in individuals who drink excessively for an extended period of time.

Alcohol and Anxiety

Alcohol and anxiety are co-occurring alcohol use and mental health issues. Alcohol addiction can lead to the development or exacerbation of anxiety symptoms due to the effects that alcohol can have on dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain.

Alcohol and Trauma

Past trauma can often be an underlying condition that causes alcohol abuse. Many people who struggle with past trauma will use alcohol to self-medicate or cope with how they are feeling.

Alcohol and Psychosis

Another issue with alcohol abuse and mental health is psychosis. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to psychosis, where individuals will struggle with hallucinations or delusions. Psychosis is also a possible withdrawal symptom during alcohol detox. Proper support is necessary during mental health and alcohol detox treatment.

Alcohol and Suicide & Self-Harm

Alcohol and mental health issues can also cause someone to be more likely to commit suicide or self-harm. The risk of suicide or self-harm may also be more common during alcohol withdrawal, so proper treatment and support are necessary during mental health and alcohol abuse treatment.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

Studies have found many adverse short and long-term effects of alcohol on the brain. This shows the direct impact of alcohol on mental health and how alcohol abuse can significantly impact someone’s life and well-being.

Alcoholic Brain vs. Normal Brain

There are many psychological effects of alcohol abuse. Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect how the brain looks and works. This can lead to many cognitive and mental health issues, which is why alcohol and mental health problems often go hand in hand.3

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

In the long term, alcohol abuse can affect the brain. Therefore alcohol and mental illness often co-occur. Long-term effects of alcohol on the brain include:4
  • Brain shrinkage
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Damage to neurotransmitters
  • Psychological withdrawal symptoms
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

In the short term, alcohol abuse can affect the brain in many ways. Short-term effects of alcohol abuse on the brain include:
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired memory
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slowed cognitive and motor functions

Alcohol and Mental Health Disorders Treatment Options

Many mental health and alcohol abuse treatment options are available that can help. It is important that during mental health and alcohol treatment, both the addiction to alcohol and mental illness are treated simultaneously to get the best results.


Detoxification will be the first step in treating mental health and alcohol addiction. Withdrawal symptoms will be experienced during this time, which is why proper support and medical care are recommended during this time. Mental health and alcohol rehab centers can provide the best level of care to ensure that this process is as safe and effective as possible.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab is often a good option for mental health and alcohol addiction. Inpatient treatment at alcohol and mental health treatment centers will involve therapy, support groups, and working on life skills that will help with maintaining long-term sobriety. During inpatient treatment, mental health and alcohol support will be provided around the clock to ensure you get the best possible results.

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab can also effectively treat addiction to alcohol and mental illness. Outpatient rehab will involve going to a treatment center at designated times throughout the week to work through a treatment program.

Treatment for Alcoholism and Mental Illnesses at San Diego Detox

If you are looking for alcoholism and mental illness treatment, San Diego Detox can help.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Program

San Diego Detox offers a comprehensive dual-diagnosis treatment program for addiction and mental health issues. Our knowledgeable and friendly staff knows how important treating co-occurring disorders during addiction treatment is and will work with you every step of the way to get the best possible results from treatment. During treatment at San Diego Detox, you will undergo a complete medical exam and diagnosis to determine the conditions you are struggling with. Treatment professionals will then work with you to design a personalized treatment program that will take you through detox, therapy sessions, support groups, and other activities that will help build life skills and promote healing along the way. If you are struggling with mental health and addiction, contact us today to learn more about how San Diego Detox can help you.