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10 Ways Alcohol Might Affect Your Depression or Anxiety

Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Long before I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I was a typical student — I’d have a drink between classes, or drink with friends on a Friday night. For the most part, this was OK. Alcohol helped release my inhibitions, and I had a good time. But if I was already feeling depressed, I’d usually end the night in tears. If I was already feeling anxious, I’d retreat into a socially detached shell, watching from a distance while everybody else had fun. Then there’s the morning after, and the crushing anxiety that I’d said or done something “weird” — thanks, bullying trauma — and “made a fool of myself.”

Alcohol is a double-edged sword. After my father died, I relied on it a little too much to get me through, and I know, looking back, that there was a dangerous time when I could’ve gone over that edge into alcohol dependence. After that, I stopped drinking as much. I only drink occasionally, now — typically at home, thanks to COVID-19 — and only for the enjoyment of it. I know that it affects my mental health, so keeping it at one or two is enough for me to still enjoy the taste, or the slight buzz it gives.

I’m not alone in this experience. That’s why we asked our Let’s Talk Depression group how alcohol affects their depression or anxiety. No matter what, it’s important to practice safe drinking, and to reach out to someone you trust if you think you might have a problem.

Here’s what they said:

“If I have a drink with dinner, or occasionally two, I don’t notice any difference. More than that and I’ll often end up crying about something. Wine especially makes me sad drunk. I have to be careful about that.” — @karaskernel

“Every time without fail, escaping or numbing with alcohol , or even just enjoying a glass of wine with dinner, will escalate low-grade depression. When I’ve had a couple of days with low energy, I know what’s around the corner and I avoid alcohol.” — @tkaufman61

“I rarely drink alcohol but when I do, I drink to get drunk because it makes me feel lighter and not so worried about others’ opinions. The only issue I have is if I do start having more negative thoughts, and I am very drunk, I’m more likely to have panic attacks. If I am in a bad headspace, like recently when the person who practically raised me passed away, I drink until I am blackout drunk because I haven’t found many better ways to cope (but I don’t do this often).” — @kimmy13141516

“I was quite a big drinker and used it to block things out or relax, but I recently developed psychosis and if I drink, it brings it on. I can’t sleep after I drink as I’m all wired up. For the first time ever, I’m happy to lay off the drinking at least ’til I sort myself out.” — @leonafightson

“I hear voices, so I was drinking heavily to escape the constant drone (voices all day, every day for years). It wasn’t the best way to cope, and a couple of times it was too much and dangerous. Now I’m on better medication and the voices are less intense so I have a glass of wine and feel a little more mellow than usual.” — @tfp335

Did you know? Alcohol affects the brain’s production of the neurotransmitters responsible for happiness: dopamine and serotonin. By making the brain produce more, alcohol makes you feel happy and carefree. Then, the next day, the brain can feel a deficit of these neurotransmitters, thus making you feel depressed.

“I don’t drink anymore, but it always seemed to have a neutral effect on me. I stopped drinking because I seemed to only reach for alcohol when I was sad and alone at home. My grandpa was an alcoholic, so I always had a fear of relying on it too much.” — @rubibleu857

“I used to self-medicate with alcohol in my teens and early 20s and things got more than a little wild at times. I did some things that I am deeply ashamed of, so I went to AA and got sober. I have been sober for 37 years now, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing as there have been a number of times where I was very tempted to drink.” — @lady2882

“My depression and anxiety used to be so bad that I couldn’t start a college paper, so I would use alcohol to self-medicate to just get a first draft done. I’m medicated for my depression and anxiety since then and doing much better now. I’ll drink socially (when going out was a thing pre-pandemic) or at home, and I might overindulge when bored or depressed, and then I’m the happiest drunk. Certain types of alcohol tend to give me a headache or trigger migraine so I need to be careful, and if I already have a headache or migraine then drinking anything will make them worse.” — @alexandria_

“Alcohol doesn’t seem to affect my depression negatively or positively. However, since my anxiety and panic disorder diagnosis, I’ve cut back when I do drink because it increases my health anxiety if I get to the ‘tipsy’ feeling.” — @rediscoveringlo

“Two years ago I would drink anything at any time. I’m an alcoholic. Drinking made my PTSD, bipolar, depression… everything worse. At the time, I didn’t believe alcohol was making me feel worse. I had to attempt suicide several times before I realized it. I’m 62 and just learning about mindfulness and other helpful things. I’m slow but sure and no more drinking.” — @tanyadavidson

Does alcohol affect your depression, anxiety, or another aspect of your mental health? Check out the following articles, and let us know your experience in the comments below.

Getty Images photo via The Good Brigade

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