Alcohol and mental health

There are close links between alcohol and mental health, and our drinking habits can affect our wellbeing. Alcohol can sometimes be used to mask or reduce symptoms of mental-ill health, which can lead to dependency and cause further mental health problems. Find out how alcohol impacts mental health and where to turn to if you’re worried about your drinking.

What is the impact of alcohol?

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down brain functioning and neural activity. Like other depressants, it impairs and slows both physical and psychological activity. This means it can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain which can affect your mood, thoughts, behaviour and slows down how you process information. The chemical changes to your brain can initially induce feelings of relaxation and calmness, however once worn off these can lead to intense feelings of depression and anxiety. This can make you want to drink more, to ward off negative feelings – which can start a cycle of dependence. 

Impact on mental health

Suicide and self-harm

There is a strong association between regular heavy drinking and suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and death from suicide. As alcohol affects how we feel and think, it can alter our behaviour and increase feelings surrounding self-harm, as well as thoughts about suicide. Drinking can lower a person’s inhibitions enough for them to act on suicidal thoughts.


Alcohol affects the central nervous system, which can induce feelings that mirror anxiety and panic attacks. As the nervous system recovers and the body is left dehydrated, some people find they experience intense anxiety post-drinking due to the physical symptoms of a ‘hangover’. Some people find alcohol makes them feel calmer or more confident, which can cause alcohol dependency with long-term use and actually increase and induce more feelings of anxiety in longer term.


Psychosis associated with alcohol can occur with acute intoxication, alcohol withdrawal, and chronic alcoholism. It is recommended that people who have experienced psychosis before, do not drink alcohol as they might find alcohol triggers symptoms related to psychosis. Alcohol psychosis symptoms may include agitation, paranoia, confusion and disorganised thoughts.


Heavy drinking is linked to symptoms of depression. People with depression can often feel their symptoms ease after they stop drinking. For those living with depression, alcohol can enhance depressive feelings. It’s not recommended to drink alcohol if you take antidepressants, as drinking can counteract the benefits of medication, making symptoms more difficult to target and treat.

What to do if you're worried about your drinking

No matter your age, background or how much you drink, if you feel that alcohol is impacting your mental health, there are things you can do to help yourself. If you’re worried you drink too much, rely on alcohol to cope with your mental health problems or could be dependent, there’s also specialist support out there. Find out what to do if you’re worried about your drinking.

Talking to your GP can be a great place to start if you’re concerned that you could be dependent on alcohol and you’re worried about your physical health as well as your mental health. Your GP can refer you to local NHS drug and alcohol services and can evaluate your mental health symptoms to make a referral to talking therapies, or prescribe medication.

If you’re physically dependent on alcohol, it can be harmful to stop suddenly, and your GP can support you in the right way to cut down and advise on how you can do this safely.

If you live with a mental illness, mental health services should also be involved in your treatment. Find out more about getting help for addiction when you have a mental illness .

Alcohol can not only affect your own mental and physical health but can also negatively impact the lives of people around us. If you’re worried about how someone’s drinking habits are affecting you, AI-Anon provides information on advice and support available for both yourself and the person you’re worried about.

It can feel difficult to talk to someone about their drinking, or perhaps you have tried and feel the outcome wasn’t as positive as you hoped. Drinkaware has tips on how to spot the signs that someone might be experiencing addiction and how to approach them.

There can be feelings of shame around addiction, and some people may feel outcast, weak or embarrassed. It’s important to remember that alcohol is an addictive drug and it’s not your fault. There is support available for both you and your support network:

There are many websites and groups dedicated to helping people who want to cut down drinking or who are experiencing alcohol addiction. The group or service you choose depends on the type of support you find the most helpful, whether it’s talking to other people and hearing other people’s experiences, or using tools and techniques in your own time alone. Below are some of the services you could approach:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which runs free self-help groups for anyone who thinks they have a drink problem.
  • Drinkaware for advice, information and tools aimed at supporting you to make better choices surrounding drinking.
  • Drinkline is a helpline where you can discuss concerns related to yours or someone else’s drinking. Call 0300 123 1100.
  • SMART Recovery helps people to change by delivering techniques and tools that self-motivate.
  • Alcohol Change UK raise awareness of the impact of alcohol misuse; their website contains guidance to help people who support others with alcohol issues to identify, approach and provide practical help.

Helping yourself to cut down

Other ways to relax

There are other activities that can help us to feel calm and relaxed, and finding what works for you can help you to reduce reliance on alcohol. Whether it’s trying something more active such as exercise, hiking or yoga, or reading, listening to music or a podcast – there’s plenty of activities to try that will help you to cut-down.

Socialise differently

Going to the pub with friends can feel engrained into our culture. Why not suggest doing something different and meeting friends for a coffee instead of a drink, a walk in the park, a cinema trip or for a game of mini-golf! You might find you have more fun experiencing a new activity together.

Stock-up on other drink choices

Water is of course the ultimate fuel, but if you’re missing that feeling of having a treat whilst cutting down or still want to drink something exciting around other people who are drinking alcohol, treat yourself and try out some different soft-drinks. There are many brands in the alcohol-free drink market, including Seedlip.

Further support

Learn more about mental health conditions including anxiety and depression, the symptoms of the conditions, and what treatment is available.

Find out how to start a conversation about mental health with someone you’re worried about with our conversation guide, from getting the environment right to knowing what to say.

Discover the other areas of our lifestyle alongside alcohol, that can impact our daily life and wellbeing and what you can do to protect your mental health by monitoring them.