People drink for various reasons – to feel happy, unwind, or escape from negative feelings. At the moment, alcohol can seem like a simple solution to a variety of problems, and it is. In fact, if used responsibly, moderate alcohol intake has its benefits. However, if abused, alcohol can cause dire emotional and mental health effects.
When you start depending on alcohol to deal with your emotional struggles, you’re only digging yourself deeper into the mess. Alcohol addiction causes a myriad of problems you may want to think about before you indulge in your favorite drink. We explore some of the mental and emotional effects of alcohol.
How Does Alcohol Affect Our Mood? The Effect on Our Brain Chemistry
If you indulge in your favorite drink from time to time, you’re no stranger to hangovers. You instantly regret your night of fun when you wake up with a severe headache, nausea, and other unpleasant symptoms. However, alcohol doesn’t just affect you physically. It also has serious mental repercussions.
When you start drinking, you may not notice it. Every sip makes you more confident and relaxed and you find yourself more willing to talk. When used in moderation, these effects are completely fine. It’s the overconsumption of alcohol that’s the problem.
Once you’ve taken a glass too many times, the emotional effects start kicking in. You may feel a combination of emotions from anxiety and depression to anger. What’s more, anger may have a negative impact on your relationships. These mood changes occur due to the effects of alcohol on brain chemistry.
How Alcohol Affects Our Brain Chemistry
Alcohol changes your brain’s chemical composition. When you start drinking, your brain releases a feel-good hormone known as dopamine, which is responsible for the “high” and confidence you feel. However, the body also has a natural way of creating balance in the body.
Therefore, when you’re done drinking, the body has to compensate for the high dopamine levels in your brain. It does this by reducing it and balancing out the chemicals in your brain. As a result, the high you felt the previous night becomes feelings of anxiety, anger, depression, and more.
As you continue relying on alcohol for a boost in courage, the level of dopamine slowly drops. For this reason, you find yourself always chasing that first “high,” which only increases your risk of addiction. There are other long-term emotional effects of alcohol as well.
Alcohol and Anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety, liquid courage is sometimes a requirement to get through some things. It may be the first date with someone you admire or a party you’ve been looking forward to but are nervous to attend. Whichever it is, alcohol can come to the rescue because it makes you feel more confident than you are.
This isn’t your imagination. As we’ve mentioned, it’s due to the increased levels of dopamine. However, the aftermath is worse anxiety when the dopamine levels decrease to compensate for the imbalance when you were drinking.
Alcohol and Depression
Alcohol abuse and depression also go hand in hand. Most people suffering from depression turn to alcohol to deal with their emotions. Some people get depressed due to their dependency on alcohol. You see, alcohol is a natural depressant. As we’ve mentioned, when you’re past the high dopamine stage, your body overcompensates to restore balance. Therefore, your depression only gets worse.
Alcohol dependency may also lead to depression. You may find that you’re more prone to arguments due to your intoxicated state, and you no longer function at your best capacity. Therefore, doing life becomes challenging for you – something that can drive you into depression.
Alcohol and Anger
Anger is also among the common emotional effects of alcohol. You probably have personal experience, or you’ve witnessed it among your loved ones. After a few shots or glasses of alcohol, it’s not uncommon for people to fly off the handle. This isn’t something you can control after excessive drinking.
Alcohol affects your ability to think straight. As a result, you may find it difficult to interpret social cues or control yourself. Therefore, you burst out the first thing that comes to mind. There are also instances when these anger outbursts turn into violence.
What Are The Signs You Have an Alcohol Problem?
Excessive drinking over a long period can result in alcohol abuse disorder (AUD), which is often referred to as alcohol addiction. AUD is a condition that persists despite the negative impacts of alcohol on one’s relationships, health, or career. To be diagnosed with AUD, you’d have to display any of the following symptoms within a 12-month period:
- Spending a lot of time thinking about or trying to access alcohol
- Non-stop alcohol cravings
- Drinking when you should not, e.g., while driving or operating machinery
- Inability to handle obligations at work, school, or in relationships
- Continuing to drink despite negative consequences occurring
- Taking higher amounts of alcohol than initially intended
- Higher tolerance for alcohol or needing more to achieve previous effects you had with smaller amounts of alcohol
- Avoiding activities so that you can drink
- Withdrawal symptoms if you attempt to stop drinking
Negative Effect of Alcohol on Mental Health
In most cases, the effects of alcohol pass after the alcohol is out of one’s system. However, some symptoms persist longer and have serious long-term consequences. Here are some of the short and long-term effects of alcohol you should be aware of.
Alcohol intoxication happens due to the short-term effects of alcohol on the brain. The symptoms vary depending on how much you drink, your weight, how often you drink, and your bodily makeup. Some of the symptoms you may experience include:
- Impaired motor coordination
- Inability to make sound judgments
- Slow heart rate
These mild symptoms may be evident after 1 to 2 drinks. However, more than this can lead to an overdose, which is known as alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can be lethal and occurs when you drink too much alcohol within a short time.
Heavy drinkers are at risk of the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain and overall health. Some of the long-term health consequences of alcohol abuse include liver damage, heart disease, cancer, digestion problems, and compromised immune system, among others.
That’s not all. Overconsumption of alcohol also leads to a host of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It also affects one’s mood and can cause sleep disturbances. Excessive drinking also puts you at risk of thiamine deficiency as a result of poor nutrition. This deficiency leads to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), also known as “wet brain.” This condition can result in persistent mental confusion, difficulty with coordination, learning, and memory problems.
Alcohol Is Not a Solution
Like most people, you probably enjoy a drink from time to time to celebrate or unwind. The relaxation and buzz from alcohol are unmatched. However, you need to take alcohol responsibly. As you have seen, the emotional and mental health effects of alcohol are serious and dangerous. Most importantly, avoid turning to alcohol as a way of escaping – it’s never the solution. If anything, it only makes your troubles worse.
If you’re struggling with depression and anxiety or suspect you may have an alcohol problem, therapy can be really useful. Therapy will help improve your self-control, identify your triggers, and give you the right tools to cope with your urges.
Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach.Read more