Alcohol, depression and anxiety

Many of us enjoy a drink or two, but like many things in life it’s important to practice moderation. The effects of alcohol can be damaging to our physical and emotional health, especially if we experience depression or anxiety.

Alcohol effects the entire body including the brain, the gut, the heart, sleep and sexual functions.

The mental and emotional effects of alcohol vary from person to person. This is dependent on how much a person drinks, for how long and if any pre-existing mental illness is present.

Often people with depression and/or anxiety turn to alcohol as a way to try and cope. Some people use alcohol and drugs to mask their symptoms or to help make them feel better, not realising it can leave you feeling worse.


Alcohol alters your brain chemistry

Our brains rely on a fine balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant. This means it distorts the chemical messaging processes in your brain, making it difficult to predict how you will feel and react to it.

While initially you may get a relaxed feeling after your first drink, over time it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. Alcohol can lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels, both of which help regulate mood. Lower levels of these chemicals can make a depressed person more depressed.


Alcohol affects your sleep

Alcohol is known to interrupt your circadian rhythm and block rapid eye moment (REM) sleep, which is often considered the most restorative type of sleep. While it can help you fall asleep faster, it also contributes to poor quality sleep due to more frequent visits to the bathroom.


Forming new habits

It is easy to fall into bad habits and trying to give them up can be hard (see our article on Why behaviour change is hard).

Reducing and changing your consumption of alcohol can take time as you form new habits. Some immediate and relatively easy strategies to support you include:

  • Avoid keeping alcohol in the house
  • Don’t drink alone
  • Limit drinking to meal times only
  • Use exercise and relaxation techniques to manage stress


If you need to talk to someone, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online chat.