Alcohol and Depression

Research has found that moderate drinkers are at lower risk of suffering depression than are alcohol abstainers.

The study of the drinking behaviors and mental health of over 38,000 people used data from the Nord-Trondelag Health Study (HUNT Study) based in Norway. The researchers, led by Jens Christopher Skogen of the University of Bergen in Norway, found that those who reported not consuming any alcohol over a two-week period were more likely than moderate drinkers to report symptoms of depression.

One possible explanation for the link between non-drinking and depression may be that abstainers have fewer close friends than drinkers. They may find it harder to develop strong friendships because they don't have the advantage of alcohol as a social lubricant.

The authors also suggest that abstainers may have certain personality traits that lead both to abstaining and to depression.

The finding that moderate drinking reduces the risk of depression is consistent with the research evidence that drinking alcohol in moderation is associated with better health than is either abstaining or abusing alcoholic beverages.

Of course, the abuse of alcohol is associated with depression and other undesirable outcomes.

Drinking in moderation has been described by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a man consuming four drinks on any day with an average of 14 drinks per week. For women, it is consuming three drinks in any one day and an average of seven drinks per week.

A standard alcoholic drink is:

  • A 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer
  • A 5-ounce glass of dinner wine
  • A shot (one and one-half ounces) of 80 proof liquor or spirits such as vodka, tequila, or rum either straight or in a mixed drink.

Standard drinks contain equivalent amounts of alcohol. To a breathalyzer, they're all the same.

There is no evidence that any particular form of alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, or distilled spirits) confers greater health benefits than any other.


  • Skogen, J.C, et al. Anxiety and depression among abstainers and low-level alcohol consumers.

Readings on Alcohol and Depression:

  • Many studies indicate that the abuse (rather than its moderate consumption) of alcohol is often associated with depression.
  • Addolorato, G., et al. Depression, alcohol abuse and orocaecal transit time. Gut, 1997, 41, 417.
  • Cloud, John. Why nondrinkers may be more depressed. Time, October 6, 2009.
  • Donnelly, Gloria F. Depression, alcohol abuse, and healthy living strategies. Holistic Nursing Practice, 2009, 23(1), 1.
  • Fu, Q., et al. Shared genetic risk of major depression, alcohol dependence, and marijuana dependence: contribution of antisocial personality disorder in men. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2002, 59(12), 1125-1132.
  • McPherson, mary E. Parenting Behavior, Adolescent Depression, Alcohol Use, Tobacco Use, and Academic Performance. Thesis. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2004.

Note: This website is informational only. It does not provide health advice or recommendations and none should be inferred.

Filed Under: Health