Alcohol (chemical name ethyl alcohol or ethanol) is a liquid made from sugars by the action of yeast. The products may be drunk in their original form (for example, beer and wines), or after strengthening (for example, sherry, port and spirits).
Alcohol has complex effects on many parts of the brain and these are not fully understood. One influence is to reduce the emotional effects of stressful situations that may lead to depression.
Many studies have found a link between alcohol consumption and mood. In general, people who drink a moderate amount of alcohol have a lower risk of developing depression than people who do not drink at all. However, this does not mean that alcohol protects against depression. People may abstain from alcohol due to other reasons, for example, because they have a chronic illness, and this could explain their increased risk of depression. It is also important to remember that these studies have looked at the general population, and not just how alcohol effects people who are depressed.
There have been no studies which have looked at using alcohol as a treatment for depression.
Heavy drinking is associated with poor mental health. As explained in the entry about Alcohol Avoidance, people who drink heavily are at a higher risk of developing depression.
There are several disadvantages of using alcohol. Heavy drinking causes intoxication. In the longer term it can harm physical and mental health, and can lead to addiction. Heavy drinking is associated with violence and other antisocial behaviour. People who have problems with alcohol use often suffer from depression. Even in smaller quantities, alcohol can affect driving skills and the ability to do other tasks (for example, at work) and this increases the risk of accidents. It can lead people to do things they will regret later or feel guilty about. Alcohol may also lessen the effectiveness of antidepressants, although some drinking is usually allowed for people taking them.
If you would like to assess your current drinking habits, you can complete an online risk assessment tool provided by the Mental Health Commission in Western Australia.
Laws restrict the sale of alcohol in Australia, but it is widely sold from licensed outlets to people aged 18 years or over.
Moderate alcohol intake may help to reduce stress and does not appear to raise the risk of depression. However, the direct effects of alcohol on clinical depression are unknown. Heavy drinking is not recommended (see entry for Alcohol Avoidance). Even lighter drinkers need to be aware that there could be harmful effects on their work performance or personal relationships. Drinking alcohol along with antidepressants or other medication should be discussed with a doctor.
Last updated and reviewed: 1 December 2016