Alcohol and mental health

Alcohol and mental health are closely linked. Alcohol use can negatively affect your mood, thoughts and feelings, and contribute to the development, or worsening of, mental health issues over time.

How does alcohol affect mood and mental health?

Alcohol is classified as a depressant drug. Depressant drugs suppress the central nervous system and slow down the functions of your brain, affecting the way you think, feel and behave.1 This is why alcohol can cause slurred speech, slower reaction times, and impaired judgement. 

Our brains rely on a fine balance of chemicals and processes to regulate mood and emotions. Over time, alcohol use can lead to the depletion of chemicals that have an important role in maintaining our mental health and help to reduce anxiety naturally. 

Like many drugs, alcohol also stimulates receptors in the brain that release dopamine, the chemical responsible for pleasure.2 This tricks your body into feeling pleasure and associating drinking alcohol with positive feelings. But the more you drink, the less dopamine your body releases, and this can lead to prolonged feelings of low mood. 

Alcohol and mental health conditions

People who experience mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, often use alcohol as a way to try and cope. Some people use alcohol to mask their symptoms or to help make them feel better, not realising it can leave them feeling worse.  
Research has found that people who report ‘self-medicating’ by using alcohol have a greater likelihood of developing dependence and alcohol use disorders in the long-term. 3,

Signs alcohol could be affecting your mental health

  • Feeling down or having a low mood
  • Problems sleeping
  • Feeling tired and hungover regularly
  • Feeling worried and anxious in places and with people that you wouldn’t normally
  • Feeling guilt or remorse after drinking
  • Lack of energy and motivation to do everyday things
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs

If you’re worried about your alcohol use or feel it’s affecting your mental health, it’s important to talk with a doctor or health professional.  

For more information on the relationship between alcohol and mental health, visit Think Mental Health.

What is ‘hangxiety’?

It’s common for people to have increased feelings of anxiety after drinking alcohol. Although it’s not a diagnosed medical condition, this is often referred to as ‘hangxiety’, and generally occurs during the hangover period. While drinking, alcohol can give you a short-lived feeling of relaxation. 

But alcohol disrupts chemicals and processes in the brain which can both cause and worsen feelings of anxiety, worry, and agitation the next day. 

Alcohol and suicide

Alcohol use is a risk factor for suicide and may result in impulsive suicidal behaviours that might not otherwise occur. The more alcohol a person drinks, the greater the risk of suicide.5  

This is likely to be due to the intoxicating effect of alcohol which reduces inhibitions. This can generate suicidal thoughts and increases the likelihood of acting on these thoughts, often on an impulse.

Lifeline WA provides all Western Australians experiencing a personal crisis or thinking about suicide with access to 24-hour crisis support. Phone: 13 11 14 

Call 000 immediately if you or someone you know is in a life-threatening emergency.

Mental health coping

Looking after your mental health and wellbeing

Healthy coping strategies are those that help deal with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression and can lead to long-term improvements in our mental health and wellbeing. Here’s some strategies you might like to help your mental health and wellbeing:

  • Talk to a friend or family member about how you are feeling.
  • Chat with a professional, such as your GP or contact a support line.
  • Keep active and eat healthy and nutritious foods.
  • Allow more time for rest and relaxation.
  • Try mindfulness or meditation.
  • Make and maintain meaningful social connections.
  • Take active steps to reduce your alcohol use. 
  • Visit the Think Mental Health website.

Did you know?  Any amount of alcohol disrupts sleep quality

Since alcohol slows down the functions of your brain, this may make you fall asleep quicker. But when your body breaks down the alcohol during the night, it disrupts the quality of your sleep and stages of the sleep cycle.6 

Alcohol prevents you from getting the deep sleep your body needs and makes you more likely to wake up in the latter half of the night. Quality sleep is critical to positive mental health and wellbeing, and lack of sleep can negatively impact on our daily functioning and reduce our overall quality of life.7

Want to reduce your drinking?

 The Australian Alcohol Guideline for adults recommends no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day to reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm. 

The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm. 

It’s recommended that anyone receiving treatment for a mental health condition should discuss their alcohol use with a healthcare professional. If you’re taking prescribed medication, it’s important to remember that alcohol and other drugs may interact with medications and can reduce their effectiveness or increase unwanted side effects.

Learn more about tips to reduce your drinking.

  1. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Depressants. 2022.
  2. Di Chiara G. Alcohol and dopamine. Alcohol health and research world. 1997. 21(2), 108–114.
  3. Crum, R., Mojtabai, R., Lazareck, S., Bolton, J., Robinson, J., Sareen, J., … & Storr, C. A prospective assessment of reports of drinking to self-medicate mood symptoms with the incidence and persistence of alcohol dependence. 2013. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(7), 178-726.
  4. Turner, S., Mota, N., Bolton, J., & Sareen, J. Self-medication with alcohol or drugs for mood and anxiety disorders: A narrative review of the epidemiological literature. 2018. Depression and Anxiety, 35, 851-860.
  5. Hufford, M. Alcohol and suicidal behaviour. Clinical Psychology Review. 2001.  21(5), 797-811.
  6. Ebrahim, I., Shapiro, C., Williams, A., & Fenwick, P. Alcohol and Sleep 1: Effects on normal sleep. 2013. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 37(4), 539-549.
  7. Mental Health Foundation. Sleep matters. 2011. The impact of sleep on health and wellbeing. Retrieved from:

Page last updated2 August 2023