Drugs, alcohol and mental health

Drugs and alcohol change the way your brain and body work – find out why this is important for your mental health.

This article was written in consultation with our community partner, Beyond Blue. Medibank and Beyond Blue are working together to empower all people in Australia to be better connected with knowledge, resources and support to improve their mental health and wellbeing. For further information from Beyond Blue on drugs and alcohol and mental health please click here.

Drugs, alcohol and mental health

What comes first, the mental health issue or drug and alcohol problem?

It can be tough to tell because people often use drugs and alcohol to deal with depression and anxiety. It can make an existing problem worse.

Jump to section: Signs and symptomsIdentifying a problemCutting back | TreatmentGetting support

According to The National Health and Medical Research Council, several standard alcoholic drinks may have different and more severe effects on a person with depression than on someone without it. Research by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found a strong link between illicit drug use and mental health issues.

Drugs and alcohol can be addictive, and difficult to quit, and recovery may be challenging.

It’s vital to understand the link between mental health and drug and alcohol problems so you can change your habits, get the right support and access the right treatments to improve your physical and mental wellbeing

The earlier you get help the better, but it’s never too late.

Signs and symptoms 

According to Beyond Blue, over 500,000 Australians will experience depression and a substance use disorder at the same time, at some point in their lives – it can happen to anyone.

Signs of depression include a feeling of sadness or miserable thoughts that last, on average, for more than two weeks, as well as noticeable changes in behaviour or regular routines. It’s normal to feel flat from time to time, life is supposed to ebb and flow, but if these feelings last for an extended period, they may be a sign of depression.

Beyond Blue has a confidential depression and anxiety checklist to measure how you’re feeling, or you can schedule an appointment with a GP.

Over time, you may become more reliant on substances to deal with an underlying issue.

Are you finding it hard to control how much you use?

It is important to be aware of what drugs you are taking and how much you are drinking. Drug and alcohol dependency happens when substances are used excessively to cope with physical pain or difficult situations such as grief, loss, anxiety or trauma. For alcohol, the Australian Guidelines suggest drinking no more than 2 standard drinks per day over the course of a week to reduce the impact of alcohol on you physical and mental health.

Start asking yourself questions like why do you use drugs and alcohol? How often are you using drugs or alcohol? Are you finding it hard to control how much you use?

The answers will help highlight whether you are developing a problem.

Other signs and symptoms to look out for include:

  • altered mood or behaviour
  • changes to appetite
  • altered energy levels or libido
  • issues managing work, finances and relationships
  • intense urges for a substance or a need for more
  • cutting back on social or other activities
  • lying to people about alcohol or drug use when they ask
  • doing things that are illegal to get the substance, such as stealing
  • taking risks such as driving when you are under the influence of the substance head
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop taking the substance.

Read more about mental health and substance use.

group of people chinking glasses to say cheers

Cutting back

If you think drugs or alcohol are affecting your mental health, reducing the amount you use, and how often, is a good start.

Try the following tips:

  • Don’t drink alone
  • Attend social gatherings where drugs and alcohol won’t be present.
  • Don’t keep drugs or alcohol at home
  • Try non-alcoholic drinks as an alternative
  • If you decide to drink, limit yourself to one drink per hour
  • Try not to take drugs or drink when you are feeling down or anxious.

It’s important to let your friends and family know that you are trying to make a change and ask for their support. The people who know you’re trying to cut back will be able to be more mindful of your situation and support you along the way. Every little bit helps.


If you’ve tried cutting back but are still experiencing negative effects from drugs or alcohol, the next step is treatment.

The goal of treatment for drug and alcohol dependency is to help reduce the use of substances, or to help reduce the harm to yourself. Treatment is based on a person’s specific needs.

Make an appointment with a GP to discuss the options. A GP can also set up a mental health care plan, which may include a referral to see a psychologist.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation has the contact numbers for treatment services in each state and territory.

Online resources and support

In addition to in-person services, there is also a number of resources and services you can access online, including: 

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation is Australian’s leading organisation committed to preventing and minimising the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs. They provide information and resources about alcohol and different types of drugs and their impact, as well as the potential risks and ways to minimise harm, including contact information for help and support services.

Beyond Blue has a 24/7 national support line where you can talk with a trained mental health professional who will listen, provide information and advice, and point you in the right direction to seek further help on 1300 22 4636.

Lifeline for crisis support and suicide prevention services with an online live chat. You can also call them 24 hours a day on 13 11 14. 

headspace provides mental health support and services to young people aged 12 to 25 and their families in person at headspace centres across Australia or by online chat or phone through headspace.org.au. 

Our team of mental health professionals are here to support you on our 24/7 Mental Health Phone Support line. It’s available to Medibank members with hospital cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.

Where to get immediate help

For immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you need to talk, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or book an appointment with a GP.

Back to top

Beyond Blue

Learn more about anxiety, depression, suicide prevention and ways to support your mental health.

Medibank health support and services

As an eligible Medibank member, you get more than just health insurance. You get extra support, when you need it most. 

display / wellness / person-40 Created with Sketch.

Mental Health Phone Support

Members with Hospital cover~ can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325.

display /general / star-40 Created with Sketch.

New telehealth services

Medibank members with eligible extras can now access telehealth services - including psychology, physiotherapy, dietetics, occupational therapy, podiatry, exercise physiology and speech therapy - and claim for services undertaken from 14 April 2020 until further notice.  Medibank members can also access counselling telehealth services undertaken from 15 October 2020 until further notice, with benefits payable towards Medibank recognised Counsellors only.#

Medibank has a wide range of health and wellbeing services to support eligible members with their mental health.

Further reading


How alcohol affects your brain

Can a big night out really kill brain cells? We take a look at the immediate, next day and long term effects of alcohol on the brain.

Rethink the drink: separating alcohol facts from fiction

You might be surprised to learn that even moderate amounts of alcohol have been found to increase the risk of certain cancers. When it comes to drinking and your health, do you know how many is one too many?

Looking for something else?

Visit our Healthy Mind by Medibank homepage to find more tools and services.

Talk to us about your cover and accessing services

Contact Medibank when and how it suits you: online 24/7, in-store, by phone or through the My Medibank app.

Things you need to know

~    OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

#    Check your cover summary to see if these services are included on your extras cover and if any waiting periods or annual limits apply.

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees). 

Have questions?

Our team of experts are ready to help!

Enter your postcode to find your nearest store to have a face-to-face chat!

Fill in the form below or get in touch by calling our dedicated line 1300 110 086.
We are open on Sundays.

In providing your telephone number, you consent to Medibank contacting you about health insurance.

We'll have someone call you soon to help with any questions you have.

contact us