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The Cyclical Relationship Between Depression and Alcohol Use
Alcohol and Mental Health

The Cyclical Relationship Between Depression and Alcohol Use

July 5, 2024
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 5, 2024
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 5, 2024
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 5, 2024
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 5, 2024
8 min read

The relationship between depression and alcohol use is a complex and cyclical one, where each condition can exacerbate the other. Understanding this intricate relationship is crucial for those who are seeking to build healthier drinking habits and improve their mental health.

Understanding the Cycle

Alcohol as a Depressant

Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism to alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression. Initially, alcohol may provide temporary relief by numbing negative emotions. However, as a depressant, alcohol ultimately disrupts the brain’s balance of neurotransmitters, which can lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety over time. According to a study on how alcohol affects mental health, alcohol's depressant effects can cause a significant imbalance in brain chemistry, leading to negative emotions such as anger, depression, and anxiety.

The Vicious Cycle

People suffering from depression may turn to alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate and temporarily escape their emotional pain. However, the relief provided by alcohol is short-lived, and the subsequent withdrawal can worsen depressive symptoms, leading to a vicious cycle of drinking and increased depression. This cyclical relationship is well-documented in research on the link between alcohol misuse and depression, which highlights how drinking to cope with negative emotions can set off a downward spiral.

Neurotransmitter Chaos

Alcohol consumption affects neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA, and glutamate, which play crucial roles in mood regulation. Initially, alcohol triggers a release of dopamine, causing feelings of euphoria. However, this is followed by a rebound effect where dopamine levels drop, leading to feelings of sadness and irritability. Additionally, alcohol increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter, while inhibiting glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. This imbalance can lead to heightened anxiety and depression once the effects of alcohol wear off.

Breaking the Cycle

Mindfulness and Self-Awareness

Practicing mindfulness and being aware of the impacts of alcohol on mental health is a crucial step in breaking the cycle. Mindfulness involves being fully present and recognizing the reasons behind drinking, ensuring that alcohol does not become an emotional crutch. Understanding the connection between alcohol and depression at a neurological level can empower individuals to approach situations that typically lead to drinking in a healthier way.

Seeking Professional Help

For those struggling with depression and alcohol use, seeking help from medical and mental health professionals is essential. Therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can be effective in treating both conditions. CBT helps individuals understand and change harmful thought patterns and develop coping strategies. Additionally, medications approved by the FDA, such as naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram, can help reduce cravings and mitigate withdrawal symptoms.

Building a Support System

Support from family, friends, and support groups plays a vital role in recovery. A strong support network provides encouragement, accountability, and a sense of belonging. Support groups, such as those for families of addicts, offer a community of people who understand the challenges of addiction and mental health issues, making the journey to recovery less isolating.

Practical Tips for Enhancing Mental Health

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can significantly improve mental health and reduce the reliance on alcohol. Engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a balanced diet, and ensuring adequate sleep are fundamental components of a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, finding alternative ways to relax and manage stress, such as through meditation, yoga, or hobbies, can provide healthier coping mechanisms.

Gradual Reduction of Alcohol Consumption

For those looking to cut back on alcohol consumption, gradual reduction can be more sustainable than abrupt cessation. Utilizing tools and resources, such as the Reframe app, can assist in this process. The Reframe app provides science-backed knowledge, daily readings on the neuroscience of alcohol, and an in-app toolkit with resources and activities to navigate challenges. It also offers a 24/7 forum for support from fellow users and access to licensed coaches for personalized guidance.

Embracing a Holistic Approach

A holistic approach to mental health and alcohol use involves addressing both the biological and psychological aspects of addiction. This includes therapy, medication, and social support, as well as lifestyle changes that promote overall well-being. By integrating these elements, individuals can build resilience and develop the tools needed to maintain sobriety and improve mental health.


The cyclical relationship between depression and alcohol use is a challenging but not insurmountable issue. By understanding the underlying mechanisms and taking proactive steps to break the cycle, individuals can build healthier drinking habits and improve their mental health. Seeking professional help, building a strong support system, and adopting a holistic approach are key components of a successful recovery journey.

Take Control of Your Drinking with Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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