At An Arizona Treatment Center Understanding the Long Term Effects of Alcohol on Mental Health

At An Arizona Treatment Center: Understanding the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on Mental Health

This entry was posted in Alcohol Abuse on by .

Alcohol use disorders and mental health are deeply interconnected. At Desert Cove Recovery’s Arizona treatment center, our team uses the best evidence-based treatment options to simultaneously help people overcome both disorders. We recognize that treating one problem without the other often leads to worse results.

But how does alcohol affect your mental health? And what can you do when you’re struggling with addiction and behavioral health challenges? We’ll cover the basics in this article, but you can always contact our comprehensive addiction treatment center for further support.

How Alcohol Affects the Brain

DCR 1 Long Term Effects of Alcohol on Mental Health

The first thing to consider is the effect of alcohol on the brain. Alcohol belongs to a class of drugs known as central nervous system depressants. This means they slow the body’s automatic and life-sustaining functions, such as breathing and heart rate.

When you drink alcohol, it amplifies the effect of a neurotransmitter known as GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, telling the rest of the brain to calm down, not to worry, and to relax. This is why so many people turn to heavy drinking for relaxation, sleep, and for facilitating social situations.

But while these benefits may seem desirable, the brain quickly adjusts to the influence of alcohol. This rapidly results in alcohol dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and loss of any of the short-term benefits you may have experienced.

It also contributes to many of the serious mental health effects of long-term alcohol consumption.

Understanding Short-Term Effects on Mental Health With An Arizona Treatment Center

At An Arizona Treatment Center: Short Term Effects of Alcohol on Mental Health

As the brain adjusts to the depressant effects of alcohol, it develops a higher baseline of neural activity to counteract these effects. And when you stop drinking, the brain becomes overexcited, leading to several different mental health effects.


Hangxiety, or the experience of anxiety after recovering from drinking large amounts of alcohol, is one of the more common experiences. It typically happens the day after drinking and can range in severity from mild symptoms to full-blown panic attacks.

Mood Dysregulation

Similarly, people often find it difficult to control their emotions in the early recovery days. You may find that you quickly switch between experiencing emotions such as:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Happiness
  • Resentment
  • Anxiety

While most people don’t have trouble controlling these emotions, those with a substance use disorder can find it extremely difficult to rein these emotions in during early recovery.

Loss of Motivation

When people have just recently quit engaging in substance abuse, they often face challenges in motivating themselves. This can happen even for everyday, routine tasks, such as getting out of bed, showering, or making food.

Understanding Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on Mental Health With An Arizona Treatment Center

Effects of Alcohol on Mental Health

In discussing the effect of alcohol on the brain, we’ve primarily focused on how it affects the neurotransmitter GABA. But another neurotransmitter is also involved: the reward neurotransmitter known as dopamine.

Even months after recovery, researchers have discovered lasting and durable changes in the brain’s reward network. These changes make it difficult for people to find non-substance use activities enjoyable, to find motivation, or to enjoy life. These brain changes will recover, but they can lead to serious mental health challenges in the meantime.


Depression is one of the most common mental health diagnoses among people in alcohol use recovery. The connection between depression and alcohol use disorders has been shown to go both ways [1]:

  1. People with depression are more likely to develop alcohol use disorders
  2. People with alcohol use disorders are more likely to develop depression

For the second category, the long-term brain changes associated with drinking are part of the cause. When people struggle to find enjoyment in sober activities or to maintain the motivation for new habits, they can fall into a downward spiral that ultimately leads to a depression diagnosis.

At An Arizona Treatment Center: Long Term Effects of Alcohol on Anxiety

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are exceptionally common in recovery as well. Similar to depression, anxiety disorders, and alcohol use disorders are bidirectionally linked.

In early recovery, when people have an overexcited central nervous system, they can start to experience anxiety in even everyday situations. If left unaddressed, this can develop into a pattern of anxious thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that require professional treatment to overcome.


Unlike depression and anxiety, trauma and alcohol use disorders are linked to environments and experiences rather than purely brain changes. The effects of trauma can lead people to drink as a form of self-medication, but living a life with an alcohol use disorder can also put you into potentially traumatizing situations.[2]

Thankfully, no matter which mental health challenge you may be facing, there is a path to recover from both disorders simultaneously.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment at an Arizona Treatment Center

Dual-diagnosis treatment programs are the best option for overcoming co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. At a dual-diagnosis treatment center, clients receive the best evidence-based substance use treatment, as well as targeted mental health treatments for their specific mental health conditions.

Treating both disorders concurrently can help people build happier, healthier, and more meaningful lives in recovery. To get started with a dual-diagnosis Arizona treatment center, contact Desert Cove Recovery by filling out our confidential online contact form or dialing (844) 235-2768 to speak to one of our addiction experts.