How Does Alcohol Affect You Emotionally

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Alcohol increases emotions by influencing brain reward and pleasure centers, which affects moods.

Alcohol can affect you emotionally in the following ways:

  • Feeling jittery and anxious
  • Feeling depressed or down in mood
  • Feeling sleepy and drowsy
  • Avoiding activities you enjoy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feelings of disgust or hatred towards yourself or others
  • Loss of self-control
  • Impulsive thinking
  • Impaired sleep patterns
  • Loss of self-control
  • Increased irritability
  • Changes in speaking patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression

Alcoholics are affected emotionally by their intake, and can often feel:

  • Disorganized, and lose track of time
  • Emotionally empty
  • Experience memory problems
  • Feel bad all the time
  • A loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities

Alcohol, Emotions, & The Brain

Alcohol increases emotions by mediating the effects of euphoria and depressive arousal on social interactions.

To fully understand the effects of alcohol on interactions we first need to look at how it affects our emotions.

With alcohol, we experience two competing effects: arousal and sedation. When we drink alcohol, we’re more alert and active, but we experience lower amounts of brain activity compared to when we are sober.

These effects work in the same way: we feel more alert and have more interaction, but our performance and response times are slowed.

Effects like this indicate that as a result of the sedation we experience, we’re less motivated to interact with people and our minds wander, which reduces the intensity of our interactions.

The next time you have a conversation with someone you’re interested in, make sure you don’t get too drunk, as your brain’s response to the other person may not be as "alive" as it would be, had you not been drinking.

So when you find yourself in a social situation and thinking to yourself, “What am I doing here? I can’t relate to these people,” it may be because you’re not feeling the same level of excitement that the other person is because you’re too sedated and therefore unable to be overly stimulated.


Alcohol & The Amygdala

The other major mechanism that alcohol increases social interaction is through the amygdala.

The amygdala is an important part of the brain involved with the reward system and is known for a series of tasks like detecting the presence of a threat or emotional state of arousal and being highly involved in threat detection and detection of negative emotional states.

Although the amygdala is well known for its emotional reactions to stimuli, its role in social interaction is less known.

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The amygdala plays a big part in assessing social status, social evaluation, and interpersonal moods. When drunk, alcohol increases the connections between the amygdala and the other brain regions that are responsible for social interactions and increases the amount of activity that the amygdala and brain structures responsible for emotional processing have in the brain.

This allows us to experience increased social interaction through the feeling of excitement and euphoria.

But, it is important to note that this does not mean that drunken people have an easy time interacting with others. These interactions are not as easy as they would be if we were sober.

Alcohol, Emotions, & Social Interaction

In addition to all of the problems that drunkenness brings, it also alters people’s interactions with others.

Alcohol affects memory and ultimately makes it hard to remember what was said during a social interaction.

Alcohol also affects the way that people feel during their interactions, which means that the way that people act and interact with others is often not the same as they normally would.

Drunk social interaction is often characterized by the other person feeling that the other person is talking about them or more focused on them than they are on the other person.

This is because of the alcohol-induced disassociation, the tendency to think that others’ thoughts are somehow related to our own thoughts and that our own thoughts and feelings are more “real.”

Drunk social interaction is different from sober social interaction because although there are differences in social interactions, there are also some key similarities.

Drunk social interactions often lead to a lack of emotion, and a desire for someone else to be as involved and passionate in a social interaction as we are.

Alcohol, Stress & Emotions

Alcohol can make your emotions more intense, raise your inhibitions, and lead to risky behavior.

Excess alcohol intake can raise anxiety, nervousness, and stress levels and can be accompanied by unpleasant feelings such as anger and frustration.

This can make alcohol a poor choice for coping with these feelings.

Alcohol is linked to emotions, such as sadness, loneliness, or excitement, which can cause people to overeat and binge.

Alcohol can also impair your ability to understand and interpret emotions, such as pain, or sadness.

A structured alcohol rehab programme can help tackle both physical detox needs, and emotional fallout, from a habit of excess drinking. A 7 day alcohol detox at home could be a first step to manage alcohol related stress and emotions. 

Alcohol & Anger

Alcohol can affect your emotions by increasing your heart rate, speeding up your breathing and triggering feelings of anger.

The emotion of anger has two components: a hostile or negative emotion, and an aggressive or hostile action.

Alcohol makes a hostile emotion more likely because it increases activity in the amygdala - a brain region associated with anger and motivation. It does this by increasing the activity of enzymes in the brain that cause neurons to become increasingly excitable. The more your amygdala is stimulated, the greater the anger will be.

Alcohol also causes a rapid increase in breathing, which increases blood pressure and cardiac activity. This stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system (which slows your heart rate), which can make a person feel aggressive.

Excess alcohol intake can also cause a rapid increase in blood pressure and cardiac activity which can make a person feel aggressive.

Alcohol & Stress

Alcohol and stress, in particular, are related in a complex way. The results of a recent study, published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, suggest that, for some people, drinking alcohol even when they’re stressed can be beneficial in the short term.

However, drinking too much can also trigger relapse. For example, depression is associated with alcohol-induced relapse, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can make people feel worse after stopping drinking for several days.

Alcohol Causing Anxiety?

Alcohol intake can cause increased anxiety and depression, as it affects how the brain reacts to sensory stimuli and how the person processes information.

In Canada, 41 per cent of the 18-29 yr old population has anxiety disorder, but alcohol use accounts for 27 per cent of health-care spending related to anxiety. The link between anxiety disorders and alcohol use, also known as “alcohol use disorder,” is supported by brain imaging studies.

Although anxiety patients are significantly more likely to have alcohol use disorder, heavy drinkers who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence also have anxiety and are at increased risk of alcohol-related problems.

Alcohol & Depression

Drinking alcohol does not cause depression, but it might make it worse. People with depression are more likely to have low self-esteem, and alcohol can undermine self-esteem. The effects of alcohol in particular may be intensified when alcohol is paired with stress, for example if you're depressed or stressed about a problem at work.

If you're depressed and you find you're feeling down, you might think about drinking. Drinking alcohol might help to distract you from whatever your problems are. But of course, it can have other effects too.

For example, if you're depressed and have an alcohol craving, that might be to drown the sadness, and the effect of that might be that you drink more, or you drink with more friends, and the next thing you know you've started a binge that can last days.

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.