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Updated on November 21, 2022
7 min read

Depression After Drinking

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.

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

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.

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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.


While a night of drinking can't cause depression, heavy drinking can negatively impact your mood and behavior. Those suffering from alcohol dependence are more likely to suffer from major depressive disorder (MDD). Fortunately, various treatments are available to help overcome depression and alcohol dependence.

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Updated on November 21, 2022
11 sources cited
Updated on November 21, 2022
  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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