The Chemical Effects of Alcohol on the Depressed Brain

July 6, 2016 Tiffanie Verbeke

It's important to understand the chemical effects of alcohol on the depressed brain. I have the habit of turning to the bottle when I am having a rough day, as drowning out my mind with a bottle of wine often seems like the most tempting, albeit unhealthy, coping method. The societal glamorization of alcohol increases temptation, bombarding me with pubs and beautiful billboards which claim that the best way to relax is with several pitchers of beer. However, the chemical effects of alcohol are damaging to the depressed brain, and I’ve learned that a bad day plus a drunken night equates to an even worse morning.

Alcohol's Chemical Effects on the Depressed Brain

Alcohol is a depressant, and it causes chemical changes that depress the part of the brain associated with inhibition. This is why you may feel relaxed and cheerful after one or two drinks: Your self-consciousness and awareness is reduced.

Don't underestimate the chemical effects of alcohol on the depressed brain. Find out why and learn new ways to cope with your depressed brain - without alcohol.

While a couple of drinks here and there may be okay, regular drinking interferes heavily with neurotransmitters in the brain and disrupts signal transmission from one nerve to the other. Regular drinking also lowers the levels of serotonin in the brain, which is the chemical that helps regulate mood. So, because heavy drinking lowers serotonin, and low serotonin levels cause depression, alcohol and depression can create a snowball effect. Heavy drinkers with depression further lower their levels of serotonin, which only intensifies symptoms of depression, and the cycle becomes increasingly difficult to escape as it progresses.

Warning Signs of Alcohol Effects on Your Brain and Depression

According to Drinkaware, there are four signs that indicate that alcohol use is affecting your mood and your mind:

  1. Trouble sleeping or poor sleep quality
  2. Abnormally low energy or exhaustion
  3. Poor mood—worse than your typical depressive mood
  4. Anxiety during situations in which you typically feel comfortable

Take an Alcohol Screening Test to rule out problem drinking.

Alternative Coping Skills to Using Alcohol

A few ways to cope with stress and bad days without resorting to alcohol are: exercising, relaxing, talking to a friend, and being aware of why you are drinking.

Become aware of why you drink by using the HALT mechanism to analyze your basic needs: ask yourself if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, and if you answer "yes" to any of these adjectives, fulfill those needs. Each coping method offers different benefits, and it is up to you to choose the best one or to create your own. I often indulge in a favorite food, as the act of savoring something prompts me to appreciate other aspects of my life. Appreciation is a nice distraction from stress and negativity.

Alcohol Doesn't Mix With the Depressed Brain

Those of us experiencing depression need many things during a bad day, be it physical activity, time with friends, a good cry, or self-indulgence. But of all the needs we may have, science says that alcohol is not one of them because the chemical effects of alcohol on the depressed brain are detrimental to us.


Alcohol and Mental Health. (2016). Drinkaware. Retrieved June 6, 2016, from

Photo courtesy of Dave Dugdale.

Find Tiffanie on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and on her personal blog.


APA Reference
Verbeke, T. (2016, July 6). The Chemical Effects of Alcohol on the Depressed Brain, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Tiffanie Verbeke

Tiffanie Verbeke is a writer who delights in thinking and despises typing. She gets fired up about mental health and societal inequalities and she finds joy in driving under shadowy trees, running when it's raining, and kids' brutal honesty. Tiffanie welcomes feedback, so contact her freely. Connect with Tiffanie on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and her personal blog.

July, 23 2016 at 5:22 pm

Interesting. Would you say alcoholism is a major effect of depression? Do you still have these alcohol issues? And would you say that blogging about your struggles is beneficial to you?
Just Curious

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 25 2016 at 9:04 am

Hi Hunter,
I would say that alcoholism can be a major effect of depression, but it is not always an effect. Each person's experience with depression is different, and not everyone turns to the bottle. I absolutely still struggle with alcohol issues. I have to make an extra effort to refocus my work with sobriety whenever I am having a bad day or I am preparing for a stressful situation. Drinking is a really easy way to distract myself, and that ease is quite the temptress. Blogging about my struggles is generally beneficial, because I get to connect with others and have conversations about depression and mental health. The stigma regarding mental health issues silences a lot of people, and opening up discussions via blogging is my attempt at encouraging open dialogue.

July, 10 2016 at 5:53 pm

Nice and accurate article. I have experienced those symptoms throughout my life. Hope your article helps others.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 11 2016 at 4:16 am

Hi John,
Thank you for your kind words. The symptoms are tough to handle, and I wish you the best with your experiences.
Tiffanie Verbeke

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