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Alcohol and mental health

Alcohol is a depressant and while the first drink or two can have a disinhibiting effect, over a more extended period the effects of alcohol abuse can contribute to the development of mental health problems.

Excess alcohol consumption depletes the brain of serotonin, a chemical believed to play a role in depression. Over a decade ago, the WHO asserted that sufficient evidence exists to assume alcohol’s contributory role in depression.

Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. According to the latest estimates from the WHO, more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.

Often described as a vicious circle, alcohol abuse can either cause, or be caused by, mental health problems. For many, drinking alcohol can be a means of ‘self-medication’, though when this becomes someone’s primary coping strategy they are at risk of becoming dependent. It should go without saying that alcohol dependency can have ruinous effects for the mental health of anyone suffering from it, and for those around them.

People diagnosed with anxiety are 1.5 times likelier than average to be at risk of alcohol dependence, with those diagnosed with depression or schizophrenia double or triple the average. Around two-thirds of successful male suicides have been linked to excessive drinking.


World Health Organisation. Global status report on alcohol 2004. 2004. Geneva, WHO.

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