Alcohol Avoidance

Our rating
For people with drinking problems 1 smiley: This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.
For people without drinking problems No smiley: On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.


The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

Alcohol is a liquid made by fermenting gains, fruit or other sources of sugar. There are many different types of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and spirits. In Australia, only people aged 18 and over can legally drink and purchase alcohol.  

Alcohol avoidance involves cutting down or stopping drinking alcoholic beverages.

How does it work?

Heavy drinkers, and especially people addicted to alcohol, are more likely to suffer from depression. There are two main ways in which cutting out alcohol may help with depression:

  • It is thought that heavy drinking can lead directly to depression and so cutting out alcohol will reverse this effect.
  • It could help by reducing problems caused by drinking, such as money problems, problems at work and relationship problems.

Is it effective?

There is very little evidence on the effectiveness of cutting down alcohol as a treatment for depression. However, for people who have an alcohol use disorder, there is evidence that stopping drinking often results in an improvement in their depression symptoms.

There is also research that has looked for links between alcohol use and depression in large groups of people. Large reviews of studies have found that heavy drinking and having an alcohol use disorder is often associated with having depression. However, more research is needed to determine exactly how these two disorders are linked. It could be that having an alcohol use disorder makes you more likely to develop depression, or that those who already have depression are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder.

A study of people who had been diagnosed with depression found that whether they drank alcohol or not (including at high levels) was not linked to whether they still had depression 3 years later.

A large Australian survey found that for people who do not have an alcohol use disorder, there seems to be no link between alcohol use and depression. People who do not drink, or who have cut back their use, have about the same risk of developing depression as people who drink regularly.

Are there any disadvantages?

For people who are heavy drinkers, giving up alcohol can produce withdrawal effects which can be serious. If you think you may have an alcohol use disorder and you would like to stop drinking alcohol, you should talk to your doctor about how to do this safely.  

Where do you get it?

People can cut down on their drinking without professional assistance, but there are also services and organisations that can help. Search online for drug & alcohol counselling services, or you can visit the Drinkwise Australia website for a list of support services. People with long-term drinking problems and those who are dependent on alcohol are more likely to need expert help to reduce their drinking.

If you would like to assess your current drinking habits, you can complete a short risk assessment tool provided by the Mental Health Commission in Western Australia.


For the general population there is no evidence that restricting alcohol intake is beneficial for depression. For heavy drinkers or those with alcohol use disorder, alcohol avoidance may improve their depression symptoms. 

Key references

  • Boden JM & Fergusson DM. Alcohol and depression. Addiction 2011; 106(5):906-914.
  • Charlet K, Heinz A. Harm reduction—a systematic review on effects of alcohol reduction on physical and mental symptoms. Addiction Biology. 2017; 22(5):1119-59.
  • Li J, Wang H, Li M, Shen Q, Li X, Zhang Y, et al. Effect of alcohol use disorders and alcohol intake on the risk of subsequent depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of cohort studies. Addiction (Abingdon, England). 2020;115(7): 1224-43.
  • Liang W & Chikritzhs T. Reduction in alcohol consumption and health status. Addiction 2011; 106(1), 75-81.
  • Rehm J, Gmel GE, Gmel G, Hasan OSM, Imtiaz S, Popova S, et al. The relationship between different dimensions of alcohol use and the burden of disease—an update. Addiction (Abingdon, England). 2017; 112(6):968-1001.
  • Schouten MJE, ten Have M, Tuithof M, de Graaf R, Dekker JJM, Goudriaan AE, et al. Alcohol use as a predictor of the course of major depressive disorder: a prospective population-based study. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences. 2023;32:e14-e.

Last updated and reviewed: 21 August 2023