Alcohol-Induced Mood Disorder

The Complete Guide to Alcohol-Induced Mood Disorder

January 29, 2021

People turn to drugs and alcohol for various reasons. Often, it is to feelings of pleasure and happiness. But what happens when alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications make you feel worse instead of improving your mood? Alcohol-induced (or substance-induced) mood disorders occur when using substances such as alcohol results in new or worsening depression. The diagnostic term for this is alcohol or drug-induced depression. Unlike the feelings of depression that often come and go and are “normal” for teens (and adults) or even feelings associated with the crash that occurs the morning after substance use, alcohol-induced depression feels significantly worse and lasts much longer. For some who struggle with this condition, the impacts can be wide-reaching and involve complete loss of interest or enjoyment in day-to-day life.

What is Alcohol Induced Depression?

Alcohol-induced depression is a strange condition to wrap one’s head around. One of the most common reasons people turn to substances, either drugs or alcohol, is to feel better. But, in the case of alcohol-induced depression, drinking makes them feel worse. Often, people with alcohol-induced depression may not realize alcohol is the driving force behind their emotional state. This is because most people associated alcohol and other substances with positive emotions such as happiness or euphoria.

There are various types of depressive disorders. For this reason, when evaluating for a diagnosis of alcohol-induced depression, it is important for medical or mental health providers to check and make sure depression and its associated symptoms were not there before using alcohol or drugs. If you were experiencing symptoms before using, it is unlike your depression is attributable to drinking.

How Quickly Can Depression Occur After Drinking or Abstaining?

Alcohol-induced mood disorders can occur either due to intoxication or withdrawal. In some instances, depression can happen quite quickly. The speed at which symptoms present with alcohol-induced mood disorder depends partially on the quantity and speed at which alcohol is consumed. Or, in the case of abstinence, how long since one took their last drink. With traditional depression, a common withdrawal symptom, your mood will generally improve within a few days of your last drink. However, with alcohol-induced depression, you will notice symptoms can begin almost immediately and continue or even worsen as you progress through the detox and withdrawal process.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V), for a diagnosis of substance-induced depressive disorder to be given, you must have severe symptoms that are not related to intoxication or withdrawal, that require clinical evaluation in a setting like Hillcrest. In most cases, if you have a history of depression that occurs without substance use or if your symptoms continue for more than one month after abstaining from substances, a diagnosis of alcohol-induced depression may not be appropriate. As a parent, if you notice your teen’s depression is lingering, reach out to their primary care provider or a member of the Hillcrest treatment team.

Substance-Induced Mood Disorder Statistics

Mood disorders related to substance abuse can occur with various substances. They can occur due to one’s use of (or abstinence) from alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medications. Current research indicates nearly half of the diagnosed substance-induced mood disorders occur as a result of heavy alcohol use. The next most frequently diagnosed category are those disorders associated with cocaine and opioids (specifically heroin). According to data provided by the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over fourteen million adults over age 18 have an alcohol use disorder. An additional 400,000 plus adolescents between ages 12 and 17 also struggle with a negative relationship with alcohol. Of these, it is estimated that between forty and sixty percent will experience substance-induced depression specific to alcohol use and abuse.

Depression is also strongly linked to alcohol and substance use disorders. This type of depression does not meet diagnostic criteria for substance-induced depression; however, the symptoms that occur are interrelated. As many as twenty-five percent of men who struggle with alcohol dependence will also experience major depression. This number is nearly double (forty-nine percent) among women with alcohol dependence.

Meaningful Connections Between Alcohol and Mood Disorders

Many people drink to self-medicate unpleasant symptoms or pain. Teens will also drink due to peer pressure or the overwhelming desire to “fit in” with those around them. However, most do not realize that using alcohol as a crutch during difficult times, especially if you are struggling with an existing mental health condition, can lead to alcohol abuse or dependence. This is known as a co-occurring disorder. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates as many as 8.5 million Americans struggle with a co-occurring disorder each year. One of the most common combinations is depression and substance abuse.

 It is also important to remember that alcohol use and abuse can intensify pre-existing mood disorder symptoms. When you become intoxicated from drinking too much, you will often experience a range of symptoms. Some of the most common include decreased coordination (stumbling), deep relaxation or fatigue, and impaired speech, vision, and judgment. If you have a mood disorder, you will experience all of these symptoms, but they may present with additional adverse side effects. Because alcohol affects the brain, you may find the common symptoms of your mood disorder intensified when you drink, especially when you drink to the point of intoxication.

Treating Alcohol-Induced Mood Disorders

Alcohol-induced depression will often present similar to traditional depression. The conditions share many of the same symptoms, with the exception of one. In the case of alcohol-induced depression, the depressive symptoms occur as a direct result of drinking. While alcohol or other substances may play a role in traditional depression as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis, they are not a root cause of the symptoms. When someone experiences depression, they often experience a broad range of symptoms. These symptoms affect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. During a depressive episode, you may experience feelings of sadness, emptiness, anger, frustration, and irritability. You may also notice changes to your sleeping patterns, loss of interest in everyday activities, loss of energy, appetite changes, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulties with memory and concentration, physical health deterioration, and thoughts of death or suicide. In cases of alcohol-induced depression, many of the same symptoms will present.

However, they do so either due to drinking or because you have stopped drinking. Someone with alcohol-induced depression generally does not exhibit symptoms of depression outside of intoxication or for more than 30 days after they stop drinking. If either of these situations occurs, it is essential to seek treatment for depression from a mental health provider who can help you find healthy ways to manage symptoms without using substances.

Treating depressive disorders that co-occur with addiction can be difficult. For the treatment team at Hillcrest to determine the proper course of treatment, it is essential to thoroughly assess each client individually. Although depression and addiction are each serious and debilitating, they are both highly treatable with the proper combination of treatment methods. Common treatments with proven success in both mental health and addiction treatment settings include various therapies, medications, and ongoing aftercare designed to support continued sobriety.


A significant body of research points to the success of traditional, evidence-based therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy in addiction treatment and mental health treatment settings. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of treatment that helps you examine and alter negative thought patterns that contribute to depression and substance abuse. This technique aims to help people examine the environment around them, their behaviors and interactions, and their destructive thought patterns. Once they understand these, they are taught to reframe their thoughts and actions more positively.  Other therapy programs used to treat co-occurring addiction and mental health conditions include interpersonal therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing. For someone struggling with substance-induced depression, your therapist may also recommend lifestyle changes to help reduce the presence (or opportunity to encounter) triggers.


In some cases, your care team may also integrate medications into a comprehensive treatment plan. Medications can be used to help alleviate some of the unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms of detox and withdrawal but also to mitigate the symptoms of depression that can be part of the detoxification process. While no single medication has been approved by the FDA to treat both depression and substance abuse disorders simultaneously, those with dual diagnoses appear to respond well to a combination of medications in conjunction with psychotherapy.

The best course of treatment for you will depend on the type of mood disorder you experience. If you struggle with depression and alcohol, you may have an alcohol-induced mood disorder. There are many treatment programs available to address this form of a co-occurring disorder. The most appropriate treatment program for you will depend on the severity of your condition, your treatment history, and the type and duration of your substance abuse disorder, as well as how and when you experience depression symptoms. The therapeutic programs discussed above can be delivered in both inpatient and outpatient care settings. Regardless of the type of depression you experience, if you struggle with a mood disorder such as depression and a substance use disorder, you have a co-occurring disorder. To ensure the best opportunities for treatment success, it is essential to choose a program where all of your treatment needs can be met simultaneously.

At Hillcrest, we understand the challenges faced when struggling with depression and a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. When one illness feeds the other, it can feel like a vicious circle that is impossible the escape. At Hillcrest, we offer personalized treatment programs designed to meet the needs of the individual. Each person struggling with depression, a substance abuse disorder, or a co-occurring disorder will experience different symptoms and require different treatments. Therefore, for treatment to be the most successful, it is necessary to design a specific treatment program designed with your symptoms and your needs in mind. If you are ready to seek treatment or want to learn more about substance-induced depression and co-occurring disorders, reach out to Hillcrest today.


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