Updated on April 3, 2024
7 min read

How Long Does Depression From Alcohol Last?

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a severe disease with physical and psychological side effects
  • Drinking too much can increase the risk of major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Understanding the consequences of alcohol consumption can help you know when to seek help
  • Many resources are available to help you recover from alcoholism

Can Drinking Too Much Cause Depression?

A night of drinking is probably not enough to make you feel depressed. However, researchers have established a connection between alcohol and depression.

Studies show that people with alcohol use disorders (AUD) are 2.7 times more likely to have major depression and 1.7 times more likely to have dysthymia or chronic depression.1

Young adults (18 to 25 years) with AUD have a higher risk for depressive disorders. However, any type of alcohol abuse places adolescents (12 to 17 years) at risk.2

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How long does depression from alcohol last?

Drinking causes both depression and feelings of depression:

  • Depression: Persistent feelings of sadness that last for several months.
  • Feelings of depression: Symptoms tend to get better after a few days or weeks.3
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11 Reasons Why You Are Depressed After Drinking

Despite its accessibility, alcohol is a psychoactive drug that causes immediate changes in the brain. Just as drinking increases blood alcohol, stopping intake decreases the alcohol circulating in the blood.

These changes can affect your mood and behavior while drinking or up to several days after.

Certain behaviors and drinking patterns can also expose you to unhealthy amounts of alcohol. These cause long-term changes in your brain chemistry and potentially lead to anxiety and depression.

If you have alcohol dependence, you are at greater risk of suffering major depressive disorder (MDD) than someone who has alcohol abuse.1 Here are the different ways that alcohol can make you depressed:

1. Alcohol is a depressant

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is a depressant — not a stimulant. Alcohol's stimulant-like effects only appear when you start drinking.

After the initial rush, alcohol decreases central nervous system (CNS) activity. Long-term exposure to depressants increases your risk for depression.

As a depressant, alcohol causes symptoms of intoxication like:4

  • Loss of inhibition
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Impaired judgment
  • Poor coordination
  • Loss of consciousness

2. You drink alcohol to cope

Alcohol relaxes you after 1 to 2 drinks when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.01 to 0.05%. After 3 drinks, you will feel fewer emotions, and your memory will become impaired.4

Drinking can help you forget trauma or emotional pain for a while. It might explain why many people drink to avoid problems and cope with stress.5

Unfortunately, these effects do not last long. When your blood alcohol returns to normal, negative feelings and memories can take over. This can leave you feeling depressed and encourage you to keep drinking.

3. Drinking worsens negative emotions

Each person reacts differently to alcohol use. While drinking helps some people forget their problems or numb their emotions, it triggers negative emotions in others.

Depending on your emotional state, you might feel anger, sadness, aggression, and depression after 2 to 6 drinks — when your BAC is between 0.06 and 0.30%.4

4. You have frequent blackouts

Binge drinking causes a sudden spike in blood alcohol. If your BAC reaches 0.16% you may start to blackout. A "blackout" makes you awake but it prevents you from forming new memories.

Blackouts are characterized by memory gaps and impaired cognitive ability. You may have poor judgment, act impulsively, and make bad decisions without remembering them.

People who blackout often wake up feeling guilty, ashamed, and anxious over their actions. If it happens too frequently, or if your action leads to consequences, blackouts can make you depressed.

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5. You have hangover anxiety

Heavy drinking is known to cause hangovers. You might experience one after a few hours of your last drink as your blood alcohol drops.

Hangover symptoms include:6

  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Stomach cramps
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability

For some people, hangover symptoms can trigger anxiety. Apart from these unpleasant symptoms, the drop in blood alcohol alters your brain chemicals. It decreases the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and increases glutamate in your brain.

According to scientists, these neurotransmitters are supposed to help regulate your mood. Long-term drinking causes these changes, leading to hangover anxiety or "hangxiety".7

6. Alcohol disturbs your sleep

The more you drink, the more liquid your body has to eliminate. And if you happen to go to bed after several hours of drinking, you will not have good night's sleep.

Excessive drinking can make you sweat and urge you to take frequent trips to the bathroom. It also interferes with your normal sleep cycle. Too much alcohol forces you to spend less time in rapid eye movement (REM). This prevents your brain and body from fully recovering.8

Lack of good sleep can make you irritable and stressed the next day. If this persists into chronic insomnia (persistent lack of sleep), anxiety or depression may develop.9

7. You have alcohol dependence

Drinking to cope is not healthy if you do it often. One reason is that it makes you psychologically dependent on alcohol. It encourages you to drink whenever you have problems.

Alcohol can also make you physically dependent by releasing brain chemicals:

  • Dopamine: A "happy hormone" that is responsible for alcohol's stimulant-like effects. It produces a euphoric high whenever you start drinking alcohol.
  • Serotonin: A "feel-good hormone" responsible for alcohol's sedative effects. It produces feelings of pleasure, relaxation, and a general sense of well-being.

Eventually, you will get used to the dopamine. Your brain also produces less serotonin unless you drink. This means you will feel less of alcohol's perceived benefits over time, causing you to drink more.

As you increasingly depend on alcohol for pleasure, you will find other activities less enjoyable. It can lead to anxiety and depression and leave you in a cycle of alcohol abuse and dependence.

8. Excess drinking puts you under chronic stress

Alcohol dependence prevents you from learning coping skills that will allow you to deal with negative emotions healthily. Instead of facing your problems, you will just keep on turning to alcohol.

This does not solve anything, however. It will only add to your stress. Chronic stress is a contributing factor to depression and other mental health issues.10

9. You're having an alcohol withdrawal

Drinking normally inhibits the N-methyl D-aspartate (NDMA) receptors in your brain. But if you have alcohol dependence and suddenly stop or reduce your intake, these receptors become excited.

This excitement is what causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms, like:11

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Agitation

If you have a history of depression, depressive symptoms can rebound during alcohol withdrawal.

10. You are suffering the negative effects of alcohol

Chronic alcohol use affects the person drinking and the people around them. Some of the negative consequences associated with drinking are:

  • Poor physical health: Malnutrition and liver damage
  • Relationship problems: Divorce and fights with family
  • Mental health issues: Alcoholic dementia and brain damage
  • Other social effects: Loss of job and home

These consequences can trigger anxiety and depression. However, the direct effects of alcohol on your brain may also lead to mental health problems.

11. Alcohol stops anti-depressants from working

Drinking counteracts the positive effects of anti-depressant medications. It reduces their benefits or stops them from working altogether.

If you take anti-depressants to manage your depression, symptoms of depression may resurface if you mix alcohol with your doctor's prescription.12

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How Can I Lift My Mood After Drinking?

If you feel down after drinking, here are some tips to make you feel better:

  1. Do not be hard on yourself: It's normal to be depressed after drinking.
  2. Stop drinking: Continuing to drink will only make you feel worse once the alcohol wears off.
  3. Rehydrate: Drinking plenty of water will help you get rid of alcohol faster.
  4. Exercise or walk around: Physical activity can speed up your alcohol metabolism. It also encourages your brain to release neurotransmitters that can improve your mood.
  5. Do something you like: This will trigger your brain to produce feel-good chemicals.

When to Seek Treatment for Depression and Alcohol Use

Here are some signs that you require professional treatment advice:

Depression After Quitting Drinking

If depression persists after you stop drinking, it may be a sign that you are clinically depressed. Depression symptoms that last for several months suggest the need for mental health treatment.

The symptoms of depression include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Feelings of sadness
  • Decreasing productivity

Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Addiction

Feelings of depression do not last for more than a few weeks. However, if you continue to exhibit alcoholism after your depressive symptoms go away, you may need alcohol addiction treatment.

Watch out for alcohol dependence and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Frequent hangovers and increasing alcohol consumption may also indicate alcohol abuse.

The tell-tale sign of an alcohol use disorder is continuing to drink despite its negative consequences.

Co-occurring Depression and Alcohol Use Disorder

The presence of depression and alcohol use disorder suggests that you have a co-occurring disorder. It requires dual diagnosis rehab — a specialized treatment that addresses both issues.

As part of your treatment, a therapist will teach you how to effectively cope with negative emotions and other triggers so you can avoid drinking.

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Physical Health Effects of Alcohol

Moderate alcohol consumption is generally safe, depending on your health and tolerance. However, frequent drinking can lead to various health effects.

Excessive alcohol use, or binge drinking, can affect your health in many ways, including:

Alcohol and the Liver

Consuming too much alcohol for an extended period contributes to three types of liver disease: steatosis (fatty liver), cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis.

These diseases disrupt liver function, severely damaging the body over time. Women have a higher risk of developing alcohol-induced liver injuries than men.

Alcohol and the Heart

Directly after drinking alcohol, your heart rate and blood pressure rise. Once the substance is out of your system, your vital signs return to normal.

However, excessive alcohol consumption can:

  • Result in an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure
  • Weaken heart muscle
  • Thin your blood
  • Increase the risk of a heart attack, an enlarged heart, heart failure, stroke, and death

Alcohol and the Pancreas

Drinking alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances. This can result in pancreatitis (inflammation and swelling of the pancreas).

Alcohol and the Digestive System

Alcohol directly aggravates your gastrointestinal tract (digestive system). This is because your digestive system is the first exposure site after alcohol ingestion.

Alcohol makes your stomach produce extra acid, leading to inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis). Diarrhea, vomiting, heartburn, ulcers, and stomach pain after drinking are common side effects.

Alcohol and Cancer Risk

Regularly drinking alcohol, especially heavy drinking, increases your risk of developing certain cancers, including:

  • Oral cancer
  • Larynx cancer (voice box)
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer (among women)

Alcohol and the Reproductive System

Women who regularly consume alcohol have a greater risk of infertility and decreased menstruation. Drinking during pregnancy can also lead to developmental issues in babies, including:

  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Physical, mental, or intellectual disabilities

Similarly, men who binge drink are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction than men who don't.

Alcohol and the Skeletal System

Alcohol can negatively affect the muscular and skeletal systems by thinning the bones over time. This increases the risk of falls, fractures, muscle weakness, cramping, and atrophy.

Alcohol and Immunity

Alcohol lowers your immune system. This makes it more difficult for your body to fight off infections, including the common cold and flu, as well as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

How Alcohol Affects Your Brain and Central Nervous System (CNS)

Heavy alcohol use negatively impacts reasoning, memory, and overall brain function. The hippocampus, which aids in learning and stores memories, can be particularly vulnerable to alcohol.

According to the University College London’s Whitehall II study recording 30 years of data from 1985 to 2015, even moderate drinking over extended periods can lead to brain shrinkage.10 Regularly drinking four or more alcoholic drinks daily increases your risk of hippocampal shrinkage by almost six times compared to non-drinkers.

This shrinking is because alcohol dehydrates tissues. Moreover, consistent dehydration can cause lasting damage to these sensitive areas.

Effects on Key Brain Regions and Associated Side Effects

Consistent alcohol consumption primarily affects the prefrontal cerebral cortex and cerebellum. The prefrontal cortex is critical in planning and decision-making. The cerebellum is responsible for balance and motor function.

When alcohol impairs these brain regions, it can result in various side effects like:

  • Memory problems
  • Poor coordination
  • Reduced cognitive performance
  • Vision issues
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-worth and confidence
  • Mood swings
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Blackouts

Determinants of Alcohol's Impact on the Brain

Multiple factors influence the severity of alcohol's adverse effects on the brain, including:

  • Frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption
  • Genetics, family history, and education level
  • Age and gender
  • Overall health status
  • The age at which you began drinking alcohol
  • Risks of prenatal alcohol exposure

The Biochemical Mechanism of Alcohol

The liver metabolizes alcohol. When you drink it, your stomach and small intestine absorb it into the bloodstream.

From there, enzymes in your liver break down about 95 percent of the alcohol you consume. Your body eliminates the remaining five percent through breath, sweat, or urine.

Alcohol's Impact on Neurotransmitters

While the liver breaks down alcohol, it also affects essential neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemicals include GABA, dopamine, and serotonin.

  • GABA: Alcohol increases the activity of GABA, a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the brain. This is one reason why alcohol can make you feel relaxed or sedated.
  • Dopamine: Alcohol consumption increases the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This is why alcohol can initially make you feel happy or euphoric.
  • Serotonin: Alcohol inhibits the production and release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood, appetite, sleep, and pain sensation. This can lead to increased feelings of depression or anxiety.

The Role of Enzymes in Alcohol Metabolism

The primary enzyme involved in alcohol metabolism is the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). This enzyme converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct.

Another enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), converts acetaldehyde into acetate. This substance is less toxic. Your body also safely eliminates it from its system.

However, some people have genetic variations that affect the activity of these enzymes. These variations can determine how quickly or slowly you metabolize alcohol, making you more or less susceptible to its effects.

Mental Health Effects of Alcohol

Excessive alcohol use also leads to mental health conditions. A drinking-related condition is also known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.

These include:

  • Depressive disorders: The most typical co-occurring psychiatric disease among people who misuse alcohol is major depressive disorder.13 Depression comes in many forms, including clinical depression, persistent depressive disorder, and bipolar disorders. The effects of alcohol come in waves throughout life or can be long-term.
  • Anxiety disorders: These conditions lead to constant worrying about daily situations. Alcohol-induced anxiety is separate from an independent anxiety disorder but is often hard to differentiate.
  • Other mood disorders: These include social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorder, which have an increased co-occurrence with alcohol dependence.
  • Increased risk of self-harm: This occurrence is high among alcoholics due to intoxication and lack of inhibition. Self-inflicted injuries, such as cutting or attempted suicide, are common among people with dual diagnoses.

Other Ways Alcohol Can Affect Your Life

Besides severely affecting your physical and mental health, alcohol can also lead to social and legal problems.

Learn more about how alcohol consumption can impact your life by reading the articles below:

Underage Drinking

Underage drinking can lead to several serious health issues. Teenagers’ brains are still developing, which makes them more susceptible to adverse physical and mental health effects.

Hangovers

Hangovers can make you feel horrible the day after drinking. However, for more frequent alcohol users, hangovers can seriously affect the quality of your life and lead to mental, physical, social, and interpersonal issues.

Physical Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol has dangerous effects on your physical health. Alcohol consumption increases your risk of injuries, liver disease, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, and more.

Psychological Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol consumption also harms your mental health. Heavy alcohol use impairs brain functions, such as memory and reasoning. Scientists have linked frequent alcohol use to depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and self-harm (e.g., suicide attempts and cutting).

Insomnia and Alcohol Addiction

An estimated 20 percent of adults in the U.S. drink alcohol to help them fall asleep. However, alcohol use has a direct, adverse effect on a person’s sleep quality. Alcohol addiction can lead to several long-term sleep problems, including insomnia.

Drunk Driving and DUIs

Over 10,000 people die from drunk driving accidents every year.14 Drunk driving puts everyone on the road in danger. A Driving under the influence (DUI) offense may cause you to lose your license, pay a hefty fine, or end up in jail.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcohol addiction or alcoholism, is a chronic relapsing brain disease. It develops when you misuse alcohol despite knowing its adverse effects.

AUD affects the brain's operations. Therefore, it causes symptoms like compulsive behavior and intense cravings.

What are the Symptoms of AUD?

Common symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Inability to limit alcohol consumption
  • Failed attempts to reduce or stop alcohol consumption
  • Spending a significant amount of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Neglecting responsibilities and obligations
  • Continuing to drink alcohol despite physical, emotional, or social harm
  • Using alcohol in unsafe situations, such as when driving
  • Neglecting social activities and hobbies
  • Developing alcohol tolerance
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as sweating, tremors, and nausea

Treatment and Rehabilitation for Alcohol Dependency

Alcohol dependency is a chronic disease that requires professional treatment and ongoing support. Some common methods used to treat alcoholism include:

Detoxification

Detoxification, or detox for short, is removing alcohol from your system while managing withdrawal symptoms. This typically takes place in a medically supervised facility.

Inpatient Rehabilitation Programs

Inpatient rehabilitation programs provide intensive therapy and support for people struggling with alcohol addiction or substance abuse. You'll live in a specialized facility and receive 24/7 care.

This approach allows you to focus solely on your recovery without outside distractions. Moreover, you'll have access to therapy, support groups, and medical care during your stay.

Outpatient Rehabilitation Programs

Outpatient rehabilitation programs offer similar treatments as inpatient rehab. However, it allows you to continue living at home.

You'll regularly attend therapy sessions and support group meetings while managing your daily responsibilities. This option may be more suitable for those with mild AUD or those who can't leave their obligations for extended periods.

Support Groups

Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), provide a community of people going through similar struggles. These groups offer emotional support, accountability, and guidance in maintaining sobriety.

Strategies for Responsible Drinking

You can lower your risk of developing an addiction to alcohol by practicing responsible drinking. Here are a few strategies you can use to drink responsibly:

  1. Set limits and stick to them.
  2. Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic beverages.
  3. Eat before and while drinking.
  4. Pace yourself and sip your drink slowly.
  5. Avoid binge or excessive drinking by consuming less than four drinks for women and five for men daily.
  6. Avoid drinking when you are feeling stressed or sad.
  7. Avoid drinking to cope with problems, emotions, or stressors.
  8. Monitor your alcohol consumption and cut back if necessary.
  9. Seek help if you can't control your drinking habits.

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Updated on April 3, 2024
11 sources cited
Updated on April 3, 2024
  1. McHugh RK, Weiss RD. "Alcohol Use Disorder and Depressive Disorders." Alcohol Res, 2019.

  2. Pedrelli P, Shapero B, Archibald A, Dale C. "Alcohol use and depression during adolescence and young adulthood: a summary and interpretation of mixed findings." Curr Addict Rep., 2016.

  3. "The Difference Between Feeling Sad and Having Depression." Mental Health First Aid, 2019.

  4. "Content: The Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Estimates the Degree of Intoxication." Duke University.

  5. "The relationship between reasons for drinking alcohol and alcohol consumption: an interactional approach." National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  6. "Hangovers." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2021.

  7. Manek N. "Hangover anxiety and depression: The neuroscience behind your alcohol morning blues." BBC Science Focus, 2021.

  8. "Alcohol and sleep." Drink Aware.

  9. "Alcohol and mood." Harvard University.

  10. Yang L, Zhao Y, Wang Y, et al. "The Effects of Psychological Stress on Depression." Curr Neuropharmacol, 2015.

  11. Bayard M, et al. "Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome." American Academy of Family Physicians, 2004.

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