Josh Chandler | February 23, 2022

Can Alcohol Addiction Cause Mental Illness?

How Alcohol Affects Your Mental State

Can alcohol addiction cause mental illness? It can be challenging to figure out whether a mental health condition is alcohol-induced or something that existed before an alcohol use disorder (AUD), but figuring out which one can be an essential tool for treating alcohol addiction. Clinicians will look at the patient’s gender, family history, and length of illness to determine whether the mental illness caused the alcohol addition or if alcohol addiction caused the mental illness.

It is relatively well known how alcohol affects the physical body, including liver and heart damage, but heavy alcohol use can also create psychological problems. Any alcohol use, especially excessive alcohol use, can worsen pre-existing mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. It can also have cognitive effects, including memory loss, dementia, learning difficulties, and hindered mental functioning. The good news is that once a person stops using alcohol, their condition will likely improve, but keep reading to answer the question, can alcohol addiction cause mental illness?

Click here to call Muse Addiction Center today. Our staff is available 24/7 to provide answers and begin the admissions process. Call (800) 426-1818.

Alcohol Abuse and the Brain

Those who drink heavily are at increased risk for adverse effects of alcohol-related complications and illness. Alcohol affects the brain in many ways, including disrupting brain chemicals or neurotransmitters and interfering with hormones linked to the progression of many mental disorders, including anxiety or mood disorders. Some of the issues that arise with alcohol use disorder include:

  • Changes to metabolism, blood supply, and heart function
  • The toxic effect on the central nervous system (CNS)
  • Associated with poor nutrition
  • Low absorption of B1 (thiamine), which is an important brain nutrient
  • Can lead to falls and accidents that injure the brain

Alcohol and Anxiety

Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives, and it is actually a normal human response to a fearful or stressful situation. Anxiety becomes unhealthy when the symptoms persist outside of stressful situations and when individuals experience excessive worry or fear which does not go away. Once these symptoms interfere with functioning in daily life as a healthy adult, the individual may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Alcohol use disorder and anxiety disorders are often found together. Alcohol can make an existing anxiety disorder worse and lead to new anxiety symptoms as well. Anxiety can also cause developing alcohol use disorder due to individuals using alcohol as an unhealthy coping tool to reduce anxiety symptoms.

Chronic alcohol use can affect responding to stress appropriately and lead to anxiety. This could be due to the effect alcohol has on the amygdala, the part of the brain in charge of regulating negative emotions. Alcohol also affects many brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, which, when altered, can cause the body to react abnormally to everyday situations. Heavy drinking can deplete GABA, a chemical that helps the body relax, which causes increased tension and feeling of panic and even lead to panic attacks.

When individuals use alcohol to self-medicate their anxiety symptoms, they may become dependent on alcohol after long-term use. Then when they stop drinking, they may experience alcohol withdrawal, resulting in severe anxiety.

Alcohol Use and Depression

Depression is also a very usual and common human emotion that occurs, and anyone can feel blue or down from time to time. Clinical depression is a severe disorder that happens when feelings of emptiness, sadness, or irritability affect a person’s mind and body and the ability to function. Many risk factors for developing depression include biological factors, genetics, trauma, significant life changes, stress, low socioeconomic status, taking certain medications, and using illicit substances or alcohol.

Both depressive disorders and alcohol use disorders can occur together, each increasing the risk of the other. Regardless of which one came first, AUD and depressive disorder are the most prevalent co-occurring disorders, and some individuals may just be genetically susceptible to both. In contrast, others try to alleviate depressive disorder symptoms with alcohol and then rely on alcohol to ease their symptoms, eventually developing an AUD.

Like with anxiety, alcohol use can worsen depression and depressive disorders. Some of the same brain chemicals associated with anxiety are also associated with depression, so alcohol can exacerbate symptoms in the same manner. Alcohol abuse can also cause a depressive disorder in someone who did not have it before the addiction started. The depressive symptoms should stop once the individual significantly reduces or stops drinking alcohol, but there is a possibility that symptoms can persist after stopping.

Long Term Effects of Drinking on the Brain

Alcohol abuse can have long-lasting harm on the brain and even shrink the region known as the hippocampus, which plays a significant role in learning and memory. Long-term alcohol abuse can also cause a thiamine deficiency due to poor nutrients, resulting in Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), also known as “wet brain .”Symptoms of WKS include eye movement disturbances, mental confusion, persistent learning and memory problems, and difficulty with coordination.

Long-term alcohol abuse can also lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD), alcohol addiction, or alcoholism. Alcohol abuse can lead to physical changes in the brain that depend on alcohol and withdrawals when a person suddenly stops or significantly decreases consumption. The brain cannot function properly anymore without the presence of alcohol in the system. An AUD can cause a person to continue alcohol use despite harmful consequences to a person’s life, job, and personal relationships.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

It is common to see co-occurring disorders, like anxiety and depression, and alcohol use disorder. For recovery to be effective, it is essential to find a facility that includes dual diagnosis treatment, meaning they will treat the alcohol use disorder while also treating the present mental illness. This is a way to help treat the root of the issue and reduce the chances of relapse in the future. Some standard treatment that helps co-occurring disorders include:


When stopping long-term alcohol abuse, the individual will need to detox and may experience withdrawal symptoms. Detox at a substance abuse center helps navigate this first step in recovery safely and comfortably.


Anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications may be administered to patients to help with some symptoms. Some other medications may help the individual with any cravings, and others can also be a deterrent, which causes very unpleasant symptoms if alcohol is consumed while on the drug.

Behavioral therapies

Every treatment center offers its own set of therapy and counseling options, usually tailored to each patient. Some of these can include:

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This therapy is mainly used to reduce self-harm and suicidal behavior.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Teaches positive coping mechanisms to replace behavioral and thought patterns associated with alcohol abuse as well as anxiety and depression.

Behavioral activation

This therapy helps identify and understand the negative life experiences and behaviors that influence the patient’s mood and emotions and encourages them to actively increase their positive life experiences. This type of therapy is beneficial for depression.

Group therapy and mutual support groups 

Helping patients create a community at a treatment center can help establish a healthy support network. These groups include 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and non-12 step programs like SMART recovery. Group therapy can be effective during treatment and long after the program is completed. Talking with others who have similar experiences and feelings can reduce loneliness.

Getting Help for Alcohol-Related Mental Illness at Muse

So can alcohol addiction cause mental illness? It is possible that alcohol addiction can lead to a mental health disorder, and it is essential to treat both during recovery, no matter which one caused the other. At Muse Treatment, we understand how alcohol use disorder and mental illness can go hand-in-hand. Whether you had a mental health disorder before your addiction or your addiction causes a mental health disorder, we will treat both during your time with us to give you the best chance of long-term recovery.

Our dual diagnosis treatment can come in many different forms. We will tailor your treatment plan to incorporate many different types of therapies that we feel you would benefit best from. Whether you want to work through an inpatient or outpatient program, we offer dual diagnosis treatment.

Because alcohol addiction withdrawal is especially dangerous, we recommend starting your recovery journey with our detox program and continuing with one of our rehab programs. If you or someone you love is struggling with drinking too much and not being able to stop, please call us today at (800) 426-1818, and one of our addiction specialists will be happy to answer your questions, including can alcohol addiction cause mental illness, or help get you started with alcohol addiction recovery.

Alcohol Addiction,Mental Health,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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