Medically Reviewed

Dealing With Depression After Quitting Drinking

- 4 sections

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

If you have quit drinking but are suffering from depression, you are not alone. Heavy alcohol abuse causes a variety of chemical and structural changes in the brain. These changes can exacerbate the symptoms of depression. In addition, when you quit drinking it is normal to experience unpleasant emotions and lingering depression. After all, it takes time for the mind and body to adjust to life without alcohol. 


Although depression after alcoholism can be difficult, it shouldn’t get in the way of you leading a healthy, sober life. Instead, it is important to learn how to enjoy a sober life while giving your brain time to adapt to a substance-free lifestyle. 

Depression After Quitting Drinking

Due to the effects of alcohol on the brain, it is normal to experience depression after quitting drinking. Research shows that even moderate drinking can result in depression after an individual puts the bottle down. Alcohol consumption reduces the brain’s ability to form new neurons, particularly in the hippocampus. The hippocampus region of the brain regulates mood. Therefore, excessive alcohol consumption causes individuals to experience negative moods and diminished cognitive abilities.[1]


Although depression after drinking can be reduced using antidepressant medications, there are other ways to treat depression as well. In addition, the brain heals over time. Similarly, long term abstinence from alcohol allows the brain to heal and for depression to reduce.


If you have spent considerable time in a 12-step fellowship, you may have heard the term “dry drunk.” It is often used to describe negative behaviors that a clean alcoholic exhibits on a regular basis, implying that they are not actively treating their disease or participating in their recovery. 


Some of these behaviors include:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Mood swings
  • Unprecedented anger
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Substitute addictions or new behavioral disorders  (ex. Gambling, binge eating, shopping addiction)
  • Feelings of self-pity
  • Inability to cope with emotions


Although the term dry drunk is not used in the medical community and is not a diagnosable disorder, the term suggests that a person who is depressed in sobriety needs to seek additional support. Rather than suggesting a person is doing something wrong, it simply suggests that the person has more to work on to achieve a life in sobriety. After all, people don’t get sober to be miserable. They get sober to improve their quality of life. 

Seeking Help in Treatment

The best way to combat depression after putting down the bottle is through comprehensive addiction treatment. A good treatment center will educate their clients on how to handle issues when they arise. In addition, they will arm their clients with healthy coping skills and help them work through their past. Through intensive treatment and behavioral therapies, clients will learn how to actively treat their alcoholism. 


Types of therapies that are beneficial in treating alcoholism and depression include:

  • Multiple levels of care (PHP, IOP, OP, and aftercare)
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Trauma-informed care
  • Holistic therapy
  • Life skills therapy


Seeking addiction treatment in Memphis is the first step to learning how to cope with depression after quitting drinking. Treatment not only provides separation from alcohol, but it provides individuals with a safe place to learn how to cope with depression. 

Activities to Help Alleviate Depression

Alcoholism recovery is an ongoing process. Since alcoholism is a disease, there is no cure. However, it can be managed and overcome by treating the disease on a daily basis. After you have completed an alcohol rehab program, your recovery will require ongoing support. It is not uncommon for bouts of depression to linger long after a person stops drinking. Fortunately, there are healthy activities you can participate in to treat your depression. 


One of the most popular and effective ways to combat depression after quitting drinking is to become actively involved in a 12-step program or self-help group. Every person’s recovery is different, so you should find the one that is the best fit for you. These programs consist of like-minded people who share their experience, strength, and hope in overcoming alcoholism. You will find support, friendship, and service opportunities within these groups. This can help combat isolation, give you a support group to talk to about your difficulties, and help you find purpose in your recovery. Studies have even proven the efficiency of 12-step groups. It has been found that rates of abstinence after both one year and 18 months were two times higher among active AA participants. [2]


Another important aspect of recovery that can help combat depression is to develop new hobbies. After all, if drinking consumed a lot of your time in the past, you will need new activities to stay busy. Finding something healthy that you enjoy is crucial. Some healthy hobbies that are proven to help alleviate depression include:[3]

  • Exercise
  • Journaling
  • Art
  • Playing music
  • Hiking
  • Photography
  • Yoga


In the end, the key is to find activities that are enjoyable for you. These activities will boost the dopamine in your brain and help level out serotonin levels. In some cases, medication may be required to help mitigate some of your symptoms. However, addiction specialists in Memphis can help you determine the best ways to cope with your depression after quitting drinking.