How Does Alcoholism Affect Mental Health?

close-up shot of depressed young man with glass of whiskey

Chronic alcohol abuse and alcoholism, defined as a dependence on alcohol, often mask underlying mental health issues. Many people start drinking to alleviate feelings of anxiety or depression, self-medicating to boost their mood, reduce worries, or feel more relaxed in social situations or when under stress. Often, heavy and even moderate drinkers may not realize that their drinking significantly impacts their mental health.

Successfully treating alcoholism means treating underlying mental health issues for the individual.

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Anxiety and Depression

The relationship between alcoholism and major depression seems like a chicken-or-egg scenario. Many people with undiagnosed depression drink regularly to self-medicate. Other times, people with no history of depression begin to develop symptoms as their alcohol use increases. Alcohol “rewires” your brain and inhibits the natural production of serotonin, the hormone responsible for regulating your moods. Instead of the serotonin acting on its own receptors in the brain, the alcohol acts on the serotonin receptors. This, in turn, makes the drinker dependent on alcohol to moderate their moods.

Anxiety, too, is worsened by alcohol abuse. Regular drinkers may say they drink to “calm their nerves” or feel more relaxed in stressful situations. However, alcohol withdrawal produces significant anxiety, and people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder or other types of anxiety, experience heightened anxiety during drinking and in the immediate withdrawal (hangover) period.

Can Alcohol Cause Anxiety, Depression, and Psychosis?

According to NCBI, not only does regular alcohol abuse exacerbate anxiety and depression, but it can also cause these conditions, as well as psychosis, to manifest. Alcohol worsens anxiety and depression, and during withdrawal and recovery, the symptoms of both intensify. Often, people new in their sobriety report that their anxiety and depression are worse, both because they no longer use alcohol to mask the symptoms and because the brain is healing itself, which can cause periods of increased tension, depression, and lethargy as the neurons regrow.

Alcohol withdrawal mimics symptoms and signs of mental disorders, especially anxiety, depression, and psychosis. These symptoms often “cluster,” causing distress. To treat these clients, it’s necessary to distinguish the difference between alcohol withdrawal and mental illness. Alcohol dependence and its underlying cause should be treated separately from mental illness for the best chance of successful sobriety.

Improving Mental Health Through Alcoholism Treatment

The good news for alcoholics who have co-occurring mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, is that the brain is remarkably good at healing itself. Managing early recovery and treating both alcohol dependence and anxiety, depression, or other conditions, can help restore peace and balance to the individual.

Treating depression with anti-depressants puts the individual in a more receptive state of mind to treat alcohol dependence. Unraveling the addictive circle includes delving into the reasons for dependence and addiction then treating the drinking with healthy coping mechanisms. When an alcoholic is suffering through a major depressive period, it’s much more challenging to begin the “hard work” of introspection and learn healthier ways to process stress, grief, trauma, anger, and frustration.

Do You Need Treatment?

At Hickory Treatment Centers, we don’t just treat alcohol dependence in isolation. We’re a dual diagnosis and treatment center, working with clients just like you to determine underlying mental health concerns that may cause alcohol abuse. Your holistic approach includes addressing underlying trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and depression to make sobriety more successful. If you’re worried about your alcohol intake or you’re concerned about a loved one, give us a call today for a consultation.

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If you have tried to stop using alcohol or drugs on your own, you may feel that sobriety and clean living seem far away. However, with the help of caring staff members and a safe, structured environment, you can receive the guidance you need to fight cravings and regain control of your life.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our admission staff or learn more about our healing programs.