Last Updated on February 3, 2021
It’s not unusual to feel a little bit down the morning after drinking. Many people experience the not-so-euphoric next day effects from having a few too many on a night out. But if you often feel depressed after drinking alcohol, you may wonder what causes it. Is alcohol really to blame, or are there other factors at play?
Below, we’ll discuss how alcohol affects your nervous system, impacts your mood, why you may feel depressed after drinking, and what you can do about it.
Is Alcohol a Depressant?
Technically, yes. Alcohol is known to be a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. This means it decreases the activity of your neurons, causing drowsiness, uncoordinated motor activity, dampened sensation of pain, and even loss of consciousness. But that isn’t the same thing as making you feel depressed.
While CNS depressants like alcohol can slow you down and make you more relaxed, they often help with negative emotions—temporarily. Other CNS depressants like Valium and Xanax are used to treat mental health issues like anxiety and insomnia. Alcohol itself gives many people short-term relief from feelings of depression.
But this relief generally doesn’t last. In fact, in the bigger picture, drinking can throw your system off balance, making you more likely to feel depressed when sober.
Why Do I Feel Depressed After a Night of Drinking?
Many people feel the effects the morning after drinking. These symptoms are commonly lumped together as a “hangover,” and can include headaches, nausea, and anxiety. But is depression a common part of hangovers?
Not always, but it can be. Alcohol increases your serotonin levels while you are drinking. As the effects of alcohol wear off, so does the serotonin, which can leave you feeling a bit “bummed out.”
Alcohol can also throw your body’s stress response off balance, and reduce your system’s production of the natural chemicals that calm you down. This tends to be a longer-term consequence of heavy drinking, but you may feel this effect temporarily the morning after.
Finally, if you were drinking to manage feelings of depression in the first place, those feelings are likely to return as soon as the alcohol wears off. Any positive impact that alcohol has on depression is temporary. In fact, long-term, drinking is known to make these feelings worse.
How Long Does Depression From Alcohol Last?
This depends on how often you drink, how much you drink, and your reasons for drinking.
If you drink rarely, but went out with friends last night and had a few too many, depression from alcohol will probably go away within a day or two.
If you drink frequently and heavily, however, depression can become part of your daily life. The meaning of “heavy drinking” varies, but the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines it as over four drinks a day for men, and over three for women.
If you’re experiencing consistent depression from drinking, and only alcohol seems to make it stop, the problem may take a long time to resolve itself. Not only is depression a symptom of initial alcohol withdrawal, it’s also a common part of something called PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome). This can take months or even years to go away.
Depression after quitting drinking can also be a sign of an underlying issue. Sometimes, alcohol can cause depression by throwing your brain chemistry out of whack. But sometimes people drink to manage existing feelings of depression. It can be a “chicken or the egg” situation, but pre-existing depression can sometimes be the real culprit. In that case, it can also take time, and support, to fully resolve.
How to Avoid Depression After Drinking
The best way to avoid feeling depressed after drinking alcohol is to moderate your consumption. It may be best to avoid alcohol completely if you are already feeling depressed, as it could magnify the problem.
Otherwise, stick to reasonable drink limits, and plan activities that motivate you for the following day. This will both encourage you to control your drinking, and give you something to cheer you up if you feel down the morning after.
If you often struggle with depression after drinking, but find it hard to limit your alcohol consumption, Ria Health may be able to help. We offer expert medical support, weekly coaching meetings, anti-craving medication, and much more—all through a handy smartphone app.
- Mukherjee S. Alcoholism and its effects on the central nervous system. Curr Neurovasc Res. 2013 Aug; 10(3): 256-62. Accessed January 12, 2021.
- Lovinger D M. NEUROTRANSMITTER REVIEW: SEROTONIN’S ROLE IN ALCOHOL’S EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN. Alcohol Health and Research World. Accessed January 12, 2021.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking Levels Defined. Accessed January 12, 2021.
- Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Accessed January 12, 2021.
- Flensborg-Madsen T. ALCOHOL USE DISORDERS AND DEPRESSION – THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG? Addiction. 2011 Apr; 106(5): 916-918. Accessed January 12, 2021.