In many cultures, drinking is a part of daily routines (e.g., having a drink with a meal) or social activities with friends and family. Because of how ubiquitous alcohol is, it’s easy to forget that alcohol is also a drug that causes changes in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.
Alcohol can have both short- and long-term impacts on our health. Being aware of the ways alcohol affects our minds and bodies is crucial to making informed decisions about when and how much to drink.
This is especially true for men who are battling depression, as men who misuse alcohol are 2.5 times more likely to report more difficulties with depression.  So, we should pay extra attention to the effects of alcohol (and patterns of its use) on our symptoms.
Alcohol as a depressant
When considering the effects of alcohol, the question “is alcohol a depressant?” often comes up.
One important note is the distinction between a ‘depressant’ and ‘something that causes depression’. The similarity in the names can be confusing.
‘Depressants’ get their name from the inhibiting effect they carry on the central nervous system, not from their impact on one’s mood. The central nervous system is the body’s processing centre. The brain controls most of the functions of the body, including awareness, movement, thinking, speech, and the five senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling.
Alcohol acts as a depressant and inhibits our brain functioning, decreasing our mental clarity and causing us to be disoriented, drowsy, and sluggish the more we ingest. When we take depressants, like alcohol, it’s like our body and mind are moving through maple syrup.
Some of us may also be taking antidepressants or other medications for mental health challenges that don’t interact well with alcohol. Some of these medications may be depressants themselves and others are similar to stimulants . Combining two depressants can make you more drowsy, less coordinated, and more drunk. Combining a depressant with a stimulant-like substance can often mask the feeling of intoxication, creating a recipe for drinking much more than you think you are. 
When combined with alcohol, certain medications can also put you at a higher risk for seizures, liver damage, and other long term medical complications (compared to alcohol or other medications on their own).
Be sure to consult your doctor or pharmacist if you plan on consuming alcohol when on any type of prescription medication – they won’t judge, they get these types of questions every day.
Some men try to take advantage of the depressant effects of alcohol to numb their pain or help them fall asleep. While alcohol can help us enter into sleep more easily, it actually has a negative impact on our overall sleep. And while our pain may be temporarily numbed by using alcohol, it never goes away, and often increases because consuming alcohol doesn’t address whatever issues are underlying the pain.
Alcohol and depression
While being labeled a depressant doesn’t mean that alcohol directly causes depression, its use and depression are heavily linked.
Unhealthy drinking (i.e., drinking too much, too frequently) and depression are strong risk factors for one another. This means that men with depression are more prone to develop unhealthy drinking habits if they don’t get professional help for depression, while men who drink heavily are at a greater risk of developing depression. 
Given the complicated relationship between alcohol and depression, it’s important to be aware of the way our drinking habits impact our mental health and also the way our mental health influences our motivation to drink.
Before consuming alcohol, try to ask yourself, “Why am I having this drink?”.
- Sometimes the momentary relief of drinking can numb the emotional pain many men with depression experience. However, this short-sighted solution only worsens symptoms in the long run and puts us at risk of developing a dependency.
So what can we do instead?
- If you can’t sort out why you are drinking, seeing a professional counsellor or therapist can help guys get a better understanding of your motivations, so you don’t feel the need to drink your problems away. Our Guide to Talk Therapy for Men can help you find a therapist and challenge some common misperceptions guys have about therapy.
- There are also plenty of lifestyle changes that we can implement (instead of turning to alcohol) to lessen our stress and improve our mood, such as scheduling in more physical activity throughout the week, journaling, or getting out into nature.
If you think that alcohol is negatively impacting your mood, you can find more information on managing alcohol use in our article on Alcohol and Depression: Making Better Decisions.
- Bazargan-Hejazi S, Ani C, Gaines T, Ahmadi A, Bazargan M. Alcohol misuse and depression symptoms among males and females. Arch Iran Med. 2010 Jul;13(4):324-32. PMID: 20597567.
- “Antidepressants and Alcohol Interactions.” Drugs.com, 22 Feb. 2022, https://www.drugs.com/article/antidepressant-medications-alcohol.html.
- “Alcohol & Depression: The Connection & Dual Treatment near Me.” American Addiction Centers, 15 Sept. 2022, https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/depression.