How Alcohol Use Disorder Affects Mental Health

Man Sleeping with Beer Bottle

Table of Contents

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), often referred to as alcoholism, is a serious issue that affects millions of people worldwide. It has gained significant attention in recent years, emerging as a critical concern in the field of health and wellness.

AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It extends far beyond the inability to control drinking habits and spirals into a dangerous cycle of alcohol abuse that impacts all facets of a person’s life, including their mental health.

Understanding the relationship between Alcohol Use Disorder and mental health is essential due to the pervasive impact of this intersection on individuals and society. Research shows a strong link between AUD and several mental health disorders, with the effects of heavy drinking causing or exacerbating mental illnesses. Alcohol can even make a person more likely to be depressed, suffer from anxiety, or experience other mental health conditions, forming a cycle that is often challenging to break.

Grasping how alcohol use disorder affects mental health is the first step towards better treatments, improved health outcomes, and ultimately, healthier lives. This article aims to shed light on the correlation between AUD and mental health, highlighting the crucial role of understanding this link in promoting recovery and well-being.


Man Sleeping with Beer Bottle

Are you or a loved one grappling with AUD and a co-occurring mental health disorder? Reach out to us to learn more about our comprehensive treatment programs.


Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder

To delve into the effects of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) on mental health, we must first understand what AUD and alcoholism are and how alcohol abuse can drastically alter an individual’s life.


Definition of AUD and Alcoholism

AUD, often synonymous with alcoholism, is a medical condition defined by the inability to stop or control alcohol use, despite its negative repercussions on personal life, health, and obligations. It’s characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, the compulsion to drink, the inability to regulate the quantity consumed, and a high tolerance to its effects.

Alcoholism is a long-term, chronic disease that can lead to severe health problems, and it’s more than just heavy drinking. It’s a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. The effects of this alcohol dependence go far beyond the physical health problems commonly associated with heavy drinking; it can also lead to significant mental health problems and exacerbate existing mental disorders.


Alcohol Abuse and its Effects

Alcohol abuse refers to the habitual misuse of alcohol, characterized by frequent excessive drinking. However, it’s important to note that alcohol abuse and alcoholism, while interconnected, are not the same. A person can abuse alcohol without necessarily having an alcohol use disorder, but continual abuse can often lead to alcoholism.

The effects of alcohol abuse are far-reaching and multifaceted. Physically, it can cause health problems such as liver disease, cardiovascular issues, and increased risk of various types of cancer. However, the impact extends beyond the physical health. Excessive drinking can also lead to severe mental health issues, including increased risk of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. This alcohol abuse and the resultant mental health problems can create a vicious cycle that is difficult to break, underlining the importance of understanding and addressing the issue.


The Interconnection of Alcohol Use Disorder and Mental Health

The intersection of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and mental health disorders is a complex and multifaceted issue that deserves careful examination. Here, we will explore the impact of alcohol on the brain and mental health, the effects of heavy drinking, and the phenomenon of co-occurring AUD and mental health disorders, often referred to as a dual diagnosis.


Alcohol’s Impact on the Brain and Mental Health

Alcohol use can have profound effects on the brain, leading to significant changes in mental health over time. These effects can vary greatly among individuals and can depend on several factors such as the amount of alcohol consumed, the duration of use, the user’s general health status, and their genetic predisposition to mental health disorders.

Firstly, alcohol affects neurotransmitters in the brain, chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells. It inhibits the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and increases the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, leading to the depressant effects of alcohol. Such changes can affect mood, behavior, and cognitive function, contributing to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.


Alcohol and Mood Disorders

Alcohol can have a major impact on mood disorders, a type of mental health disorder that includes conditions like depression and bipolar disorder. Drinking can initially provide temporary relief from symptoms, acting as a form of self-medication. However, over time, alcohol use can exacerbate these disorders, creating a detrimental cycle of worsening symptoms and increased alcohol use.


The Effects of Heavy Drinking on Mental Health

Heavy drinking can significantly worsen mental health outcomes. In addition to exacerbating mood disorders, it can lead to other mental health issues such as increased anxiety, heightened risk of suicide, and the development of alcohol-induced psychiatric syndromes, including alcohol-induced depressive disorder and alcohol-induced anxiety disorder.


Dual Diagnosis: Co-occurring AUD and Mental Health Disorders

When an individual has both AUD and a mental health disorder, it is often referred to as a dual diagnosis. This is a prevalent issue in healthcare, and the relationship between AUD and mental health disorders can be bidirectional: alcohol use can contribute to the development of mental health disorders, and conversely, those with mental health disorders may use alcohol as a form of self-medication, potentially leading to AUD.


The Link between AUD and Psychiatric Disorders

There is a strong link between AUD and various psychiatric disorders. Conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia have all been found to have higher rates among individuals with AUD. This co-occurrence often leads to a more severe course of both AUD and the psychiatric disorder, and requires specialized treatment approaches.


Prevalence and Common Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders

Co-occurring AUD and mental health disorders are quite common. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimates that approximately 9.2 million adults in the United States had both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder in 2018. The most commonly co-occurring disorders with AUD include depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and bipolar disorder.


Person Holding Clear Wine Glass

Get the help you deserve today. Start your journey to recovery by contacting us!


Specific Mental Health Disorders and AUD

While we have discussed the link between AUD and mental health disorders broadly, it is crucial to delve deeper into specific disorders and understand how they interact with alcohol use. Let’s explore how AUD affects those with depression, its link to anxiety disorders, and its impact on bipolar disorder.


How AUD Affects Those with Depression

Depression is a common mental health disorder that can be seriously exacerbated by alcohol use. The relationship between AUD and depression is complex and often bidirectional. On one hand, those suffering from depression might turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication. However, this often leads to a cycle of increased alcohol use as tolerance develops, which can worsen depressive symptoms.

Moreover, chronic alcohol use can interfere with the neurotransmitters in the brain that are essential for good mental health, leading to increased depression. Long-term alcohol abuse can also lead to life circumstances, such as job loss, relationship issues, and isolation, which can further contribute to depressive episodes.


Alcohol Dependence and Its Link to Anxiety Disorders

Alcohol dependence is closely linked to anxiety disorders. Many individuals with anxiety disorders might start drinking to alleviate their symptoms, leading to a dangerous cycle that can result in alcohol dependence. This is a precarious situation as alcohol can initially reduce anxiety, leading to its misuse, but over time, excessive drinking can actually increase anxiety, create new fears or phobias, and lead to panic attacks.

Furthermore, withdrawal from alcohol can induce anxiety symptoms, making it even harder for those suffering from alcohol dependence to stop drinking. It’s also worth noting that alcohol-induced anxiety disorder is a recognized psychiatric diagnosis, which involves prominent anxiety symptoms being directly attributed to alcohol withdrawal or intoxication.


AUD’s Impact on Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, characterized by episodes of mania and depression, can be severely impacted by AUD. Alcohol can trigger episodes of both mania and depression, and can also make the overall course of the bipolar disorder more severe and harder to treat.

Drinking can interfere with the effectiveness of medication prescribed for bipolar disorder, leading to more frequent and severe episodes. Moreover, those with bipolar disorder are at increased risk of suicide, and alcohol use can significantly elevate this risk.


The Health Consequences of AUD and Mental Health Disorders

The impact of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and mental health disorders extends far beyond the brain. These issues affect every part of an individual’s life, from physical health to social relationships, career opportunities, and overall quality of life.


Physical Health Problems Related to AUD and Mental Health

There are numerous physical health problems associated with AUD and mental health disorders. For one, alcohol abuse can lead to liver diseases such as alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and an increased risk of liver cancer. It also increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke. Alcohol can also weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections.

Mental health disorders, particularly when co-occurring with AUD, can lead to neglect of physical health. Individuals may ignore signs of physical illness, fail to maintain a balanced diet or regular exercise, or have poor sleep habits, all of which can result in a variety of health problems.

Moreover, both alcohol abuse and mental illnesses can increase the risk of accidental injury, self-harm, and suicide. Over time, these physical health problems can significantly reduce a person’s lifespan and overall quality of life.


Alcohol and Its Long-Term Effect on Mental Health and Life Quality

Over time, the effects of alcohol on mental health can become increasingly severe. Prolonged heavy drinking can lead to persistent changes in emotional state, cognitive function, and behavior. These may include chronic depression, anxiety disorders, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and increased risk of developing more severe mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder or psychosis.

Furthermore, the strain that alcohol use places on relationships, employment, and overall life stability can further exacerbate mental health problems. Unemployment, broken relationships, financial stress, and legal problems resulting from alcohol abuse can all contribute to a downward spiral of mental health and quality of life.

It’s important to recognize these long-term effects to understand the serious consequences that AUD can have if left untreated. Alcohol is not a viable solution for managing mental health disorders; in fact, it often makes them worse in the long run.


Treatment and Recovery for AUD and Mental Health

The journey to recovery from AUD and co-occurring mental health disorders is a challenging one, but it is possible with the right treatment and support. This journey involves addressing both conditions, exploring available therapies and treatments, and the role of a supportive network in fostering recovery.


The Importance of Addressing Both AUD and Mental Health Disorders

It is paramount to address both AUD and any co-occurring mental health disorders for effective treatment. This is because both conditions often feed off each other in a vicious cycle. For instance, an individual may use alcohol to cope with symptoms of a mental health disorder, but in turn, excessive drinking exacerbates these symptoms.

This approach to treatment is known as dual diagnosis, and it’s an essential aspect of recovery. By treating both conditions simultaneously, patients have a better chance of achieving long-term sobriety and improved mental health.


Therapies and Treatments Available

There are various therapies and treatments available for individuals suffering from AUD and mental health disorders. One common form of treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps patients identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior and emotions. This therapy can help individuals understand the triggers for their alcohol use and develop healthier coping mechanisms.


1. Addiction Treatment and Therapy

Addiction treatment and therapy form an essential part of recovery from AUD. This may include detoxification, medication-assisted treatment, and various forms of therapy. Group therapy, for instance, can provide a supportive environment where individuals can share experiences and coping strategies. Additionally, family therapy can be helpful in mending relationships that may have been strained due to alcohol use and related behaviors.


2. Rehab Centers for AUD

Rehabilitation centers are another crucial resource for recovery. These centers provide a structured environment that allows patients to focus entirely on recovery. Inpatient rehabs offer medical supervision during detoxification, therapy sessions, support group meetings, and often include a holistic approach to recovery, incorporating nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness practices.


The Role of Support in Recovery

Support plays a critical role in recovery from AUD and mental health disorders. This can come from professional counselors, support groups, family, and friends. It’s vital for individuals in recovery to know that they are not alone and that there are people who understand what they’re going through and are there to help.

In addition, a strong support system can provide a sense of stability and accountability, which can be vital during challenging times or if a person is at risk of relapse. Support from others can also provide motivation and inspiration, reminding individuals in recovery of their strength and resilience.


Woman Sitting on Gray Rock Near Body of Water



Alcohol use disorder and mental health disorders frequently coexist, creating a complex interplay of symptoms and effects that can severely impact an individual’s life. AUD is not merely an issue of excessive drinking or alcohol dependence. It is a chronic disorder that involves the inability to control or stop drinking despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. Simultaneously, it is deeply interconnected with various mental health disorders.

The effects of heavy drinking on mental health are profound, with alcohol’s impact on the brain leading to mood disorders and exacerbating existing mental health conditions. The health consequences of AUD and mental health disorders are dire, leading not only to physical health problems but also significant impacts on mental well-being and life quality.

It’s vital to remember that AUD and any co-occurring mental health disorders are treatable conditions. Recovery from AUD is a challenging journey, but with the right support and treatment, it is within reach.

If you or a loved one is struggling with AUD and mental health disorders, we strongly encourage you to reach out to health professionals or addiction centers. Remember, help is available, and you are not alone. By seeking treatment, you’re taking a brave and significant step toward better mental health and a healthier life.


Book your appointment today!


Interested to learn more? Read more related articles: The Importance of Nutrition in Addiction Recovery



Benefits of Telehealth Suboxone Treatment that you should know

1. About The Treatment:

How Suboxone Works?

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Medication Assisted Treatment

Suboxone Treatment in Tennessee

Got Questions to Ask? We are here to assist you!

Online Suboxone Treatment - Opioid Addiction Treatment using phone

Struggling with addiction? Discover if Suboxone is right for you with our FREE Assessment!

Google Rating
Based on 167 reviews