Emotional Effects of Alcohol

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Drinking alcohol can cause a number of psychological and emotional effects. One of the reasons why individuals consume alcohol is to cope with their emotions, though this is only a short-term solution. Emotions and mood may seem to improve when drinking alcohol, however, this improvement is temporary and long-term deficits can occur. With time, one may engage in regular drinking in order to elicit various emotional effects. These effects may feel positive in the moment, but they can lead to negative mental health consequences.

Chronic and regular drinking can cause a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. Though drinking alcohol can lead to harmful side effects, many individuals engage in heavy drinking. In America, 14.5 million individuals experience alcohol use disorder. (1) Symptoms of alcohol use disorder include emotional effects such as feelings of irritability and mood changes. (2) This can impact social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. If you suspect that you or a family member are experiencing alcohol use disorder, contact us today. Guardian Recovery is dedicated to providing evidence-based treatment for alcohol use. Dual diagnosis treatment is also available for those experiencing alcohol use and any other co-occurring mental health concerns. Start your recovery journey today.

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Alcohol & Emotions

There are several parts of the brain that contribute to emotions. One being the amygdala, which coordinates emotions, emotional behavior, and motivational behavior. (3) The amygdala plays a key role in the central nervous system, or the brain and spinal cord, which controls functions of the mind and body. (4) Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it slows down the central nervous system. (5) This slowing down of the body can impact and impair emotions, causing emotional instability and shifts in mood.

Drinking Emotions

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 85.6 percent, 18 years of age or older, consume alcohol during some point of their lives. (6) There are many reasons why individuals drink alcohol, one of these being to change, heighten, or numb emotions. Emotions impacted by alcohol use can be placed in different categories. These categories include:

  • Negative Emotions — These emotions can vary from sad, angry, anxious, scared, grief, shame, disappointment, guilt, frustration, resentment, helplessness, and jealousy. Those who consume alcohol are often trying to decrease negative emotions.
  • Positive Emotions — These emotions can vary from happy, joyful, grateful, hopeful, inspired, and many more. Those who drink alcohol to elicit positive emotions want to heighten positive feelings that they already experience. Research shows that the temporary feeling of happiness is due to the release of endorphins, which let the brain know that it enjoys what is happening. (7) Continuing to drink in order to feel positive could lead to negative health effects or chronic drinking.

Calm and Relaxed Emotions — Alcohol can cause short-term feelings of calmness and relaxation. This is due to alcohol targeting the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain once it is ingested. GABA relaxes both the brain and body. (8) There are natural ways to increase GABA in the brain, exercise being one of them. Alcohol use also floods the brain with the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing temporary feelings of euphoria. (9)

Alcohol Numbness

Emotional pain or distress can be uncomfortable and feel like it may last a lifetime. Some people engage in drinking in order to numb their painful, distressing, or negative emotions. Since alcohol slows down the nervous system, the increased feeling of intoxication can cause emotional numbness. When drinking, emotional burdens may feel like something of the past, depending on how long the feeling of intoxication lasts, however, this is just a momentary fix. Once the feelings of alcohol wears off, the feelings that were numbed start to rush back.

Excessive alcohol use, or binge drinking, can also cause blackouts. Blackouts are lapses in memory that occur during intoxication. (10) If one is unable to recall memories or events, they can experience a sense of numbness or emotionless feelings. Blackouts can be dangerous and lead to risky behavior, impulsive behavior, and in some cases, driving while under the influence. Waking up from a blackout can feel scary and lead to more negative emotions such as guilt or shame. Drinking to the point of numbness or blackouts can be a sign of alcohol use disorder, if the behavior occurs regularly.

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Emotional Flatness

Emotional flatness is a symptom that occurs when one who engages in chronic alcohol use discontinues or cuts back their drinking. Emotional flatness is a sign of post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Over time, as the body becomes dependent on alcohol, greater quantities are needed to elicit similar past feelings. Emotional flatness can lead to anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasurable emotions. (11) Not having control over one’s emotions, or consistently feeling flat can be a risk factor for depressive, psychotic, or mood disorders.

Alcohol Use & Emotional Abuse

Being addicted to alcohol can lead to negative interactions. Emotional abuse is characterized by a pattern of behaviors that control, humiliate, and manipulate others. (12) Anger outbursts, uncontrollable crying, irritable moods, verbal insults, and mood swings are all possible when one chronically drinks alcohol. Feeling on edge or irritable increases your likelihood of insulting others or communicating in hurtful ways. Those who naturally have more irritable personalities and difficulties controlling their anger while sober, are more likely to have anger outbursts while under the influence of alcohol. (13) When emotional abuse occurs, it becomes difficult to maintain healthy social interactions and relationships.

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Long-Term Mental Effects of Alcohol

One of the main negative consequences of alcohol use is the long-term mental health effects. Unlike short-term effects, these mental health effects are often negative and can even lead to physical ailments and conditions. Long-term alcohol use can cause: (14)

Memory issues, learning impairments, dementia, social problems, and relational problems, are also long-term consequences of chronic alcohol use. (15) These mental health effects can be present during alcohol use and withdrawal. Different factors such as frequency of consumption, intake quantity, age that one began drinking, how long they have been drinking, family history, and general health all determine the intensity of long-term effects.

Using alcohol daily or as a coping strategy can lead to alcohol use disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, alcohol use disorder is characterized by an inability to cease or control alcohol use, leading to negative occupational, social, and psychological consequences. (16) Alcohol use disorder can range from mild, moderate, or severe, and can be more likely if one has a history of traumatic experiences. (17)

With mental health and psychological consequences, excessive alcohol use can have negative impacts on multiple areas of life. Luckily, alcohol use disorder is treatable. With the help of trained treatment professionals, you can experience the benefits of quitting alcohol use. Here at Guardian Recovery, we provide medicated assisted treatmentmedical detox, and comprehensive therapy to aid you reach your recovery goals. If you suspect that you or a loved one are experiencing alcohol use disorder, contact us today for a free, no obligation insurance benefit check, and for more information.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2750093/
  3. https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/emotions-stress-and-anxiety/2018/the-anatomy-of-emotions-090618#:~:text=Three%20brain%20structures%20appear%20most,midbrain%20called%20the%20periaqueductal%20gray.&text=A%20paired%2C%20almond%2Dshaped%20structure,%2C%20emotional%20behavior%2C%20and%20motivation
  4. https://www.britannica.com/science/central-nervous-system
  5. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2022/08/05/is-alcohol-depressant-definition/10163737002/
  6. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  7. https://www.livescience.com/36084-alcohol-releases-endorphins-brain.html
  8. https://foodforthebrain.org/the-link-between-alcohol-dependency-and-gaba-deficiency/
  9. https://psychcentral.com/addictions/emotional-alcohol-drinking-to-cope#alcohol-and-emotional-pain
  10. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/interrupted-memories-alcohol-induced-blackouts
  11. https://www.osmosis.org/answers/anhedonia
  12. https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/signs-of-emotional-abuse/
  13. https://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2014/01/30/3934877.htm
  14. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/90-98.htm#:~:text=Alcohol%20abuse%20can%20cause%20signs,are%20alcohol%E2%80%93induced%20syndromes)
  15. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
  16. https://www.apa.org/topics/substance-use-abuse-addiction/alcohol-disorders
  17. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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