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Emotional Effects of Alcohol

What are the Emotional Effects of Alcohol? What is Emotional Drinking? Alcohol Numbness, Emotional Flatness, Alcoholism & Emotional Abuse, Long-Term Mental Effects of Alcohol & Residential Alcohol Rehab Near Me.

Emotional Drinking

Alcohol abuse can cause mental, physical, and emotional problems for alcohol abusers and those who love them. The emotional effects of alcohol can be so severe that they lead to broken homes, lost jobs, and the inability to function. Sadly, far too many individuals know the pain of dealing with alcohol addiction. An alcohol problem has overcome too many people. And too many families have been impacted by a loved one’s bondage to alcohol addiction. Let’s look at some of the most common emotional effects of alcohol abuse and the impact they can have on abusers and their families.

The emotional effects of alcohol can be powerful among those who have an existing physical or mental health condition. Over the long term, however, alcohol can make these conditions even worse. Alcohol affects the brain’s cerebral cortex, where consciousness and thought processing occur. [1] Drinking alcohol, especially in large quantities, interferes with rational thought. Alcohol consumption also depresses the behavioral inhibitory centers, causing a person to display poorer judgment and less inhibition. This lack of inhibition usually leads people to drink more than they otherwise would.

While you may feel good for a while after drinking alcohol, the effects are always temporary. A person who drinks alcohol may feel positive emotions while under the influence, but the emotional factors that led to drinking remain after the alcohol intoxication fades. Experts on the subject have identified alcohol as a depressant drug that can create the effect of depression and anxiety as a result of drinking too much or too fast. For those who already have clinical depression or anxiety, the long-term emotional effects of alcohol can worsen the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Alcoholism and Emotions

Alcohol is a depressant; it sedates the central nervous system. One of the first areas of the brain to be affected is the cerebral cortex, which controls judgment, self-control, and inhibitions. The depression on this part of the brain may result in excitable behavior, as inhibitions are lost. [2] Some people may feel that alcohol temporarily numbs emotional pain. But alcohol cannot heal it. Furthermore, in the long run, alcohol, which has a depressant effect on your nervous system, can cause symptoms consistent with major or clinical depression.

People drink alcohol for various reasons. Some are for cultural reasons, but others drink to manage:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Financial stress
  • Grief
  • Relationship challenges
  • Social anxiety or shyness
  • Trauma
  • Work stress

Mental and Emotional Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol abuse emotional effects can cause signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and antisocial behavior, both during intoxication and alcohol withdrawal. At times, these symptoms and signs cluster, last for weeks and mimic frank psychiatric disorders (i.e., alcohol-induced syndromes).

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), these alcohol-related conditions usually disappear after several days or weeks of abstinence. Prematurely labeling these conditions as major depression, panic disorder, schizophrenia, or ASPD can lead to misdiagnosis and inattention to a patient’s principal problem—alcohol abuse or dependence. [3]

Emotional Effects of Alcohol

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Emotional Effects of Alcohol 

Alcohol use can impact people financially. Using money to purchase alcohol can cause financial strain. And, again, some people become so consumed by alcohol addiction that they lose their jobs. But how does alcohol use affect people emotionally? Here are some of how this happens:

  1. Alcohol use can lead to depression.
  2. It often causes feelings of hostility, rage, or anger.
  3. It can make people feel isolated from family and friends.
  4. Many people develop low self-esteem because of alcohol use.
  5. Some people may experience guilt and shame because of alcoholism.

Alcohol emotional effects can usually be grouped into three general categories:

  • Painful feelings: When a person uses alcohol to deal with painful emotions, they often try to overcome emotions of hurt, fear, sadness, grief, jealousy, embarrassment, shame, guilt, or loneliness.
  • Happy feelings: Individuals who consume alcohol to manipulate emotions of happiness usually attempt to heighten senses of thrill, delight, general excitement, confidence, self-esteem, and connection/belonging in social situations. Research suggests that these motives are a common reason for drinking, especially among younger people.
  • Feelings of relaxation: Alcohol can seem to bring about a state of emotional calm. People report sensations that include emotional numbness, comfort, and a lack of concern about problems. These feelings happen because alcohol increases levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which inhibits nervous system activity and creates a calming effect.
Emotional Effects of Alcohol
One of the emotional effects of alcohol is the inability to deal with feelings. Alcohol can mask feelings.

How Does Alcohol Affect You Emotionally?

You may experience relaxation, less anxiety, and more confidence after consuming alcohol because it impacts the area of your brain that regulates inhibition. However, these results disappear shortly. Regardless of how you feel when you drink, the chemical changes in your brain can quickly cause alcohol abuse emotional effects, including unpleasant emotions, anger, melancholy, or anxiety.

Alcohol Numbness

Someone struggling with emotional pain may drink alcohol to achieve a state of numbness. Given the effects of alcohol intoxication, it’s possible to conduct temporary numbness by drinking. Excessive alcohol consumption can even lead to alcohol blackouts and lapses in memory.

While blacking out may help a person achieve a state of numbness, drinking to the point of a blackout is scary. During a blackout, a person has difficulty with rational decision-making and loses control of impulses. This increases the likelihood of risky activities, such as unprotected sex and driving under the influence. The state of emotional numbness that comes with excessive alcohol consumption is outweighed by the risks that come along with it.

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emotional effects of alcohol
Everyone’s connection to alcohol is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to address that relationship and o stop emotional drinking.

Emotional Flatness

Because alcohol increases GABA levels, drinking can have a relaxing effect on the body. As a result, some individuals may use alcohol to calm their emotions, but these calming effects are also temporary. If a person increases their alcohol use over the long term and develops a tolerance, it will take greater amounts of alcohol to achieve the same calming effects. 

When a person with alcohol tolerance stops drinking or tries to cut back, they may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms because their body is used to the presence of alcohol and its effects on GABA levels. Without the alcohol needed to increase GABA levels, the body undergoes withdrawal, leading to symptoms like anxiety. Ultimately, the emotional flatness that comes with alcohol abuse disappears, making it even harder for a person to regulate their emotions.

Psychological Effects of Alcohol

Drinking alcohol affects social behaviors, such as increased aggression, self-disclosure, sexual adventuresomeness, etc. Research has shown that these effects can stem from beliefs we hold about alcohol effects. [4] No matter what, excessive drinking leads to adverse physical effects. Most will also suffer from psychological effects. This could include unexplained mood swings, anxiety, severe depression, suicidal thoughts and tendencies, angry outbursts, and violent acts. All of these things are caused by dependency on alcohol.

Does alcohol make you emotional? Alcohol consumption has a long-standing association with mood, showing that people consume alcohol to help regulate emotional experiences, reduce negative emotions, and enhance positive emotions. [5] Positive feelings from drinking alcohol are related to promoting positive experiences through advertising and the media. However, the case for experiencing negative emotions while drinking is less well-founded, given that negative emotions are generally not promoted.

Alcohol is a depressant that alters the serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain, which are naturally associated with happiness. This means that even while you’ll have an initial “boost” the night before, you’ll lack these same chemicals the next day, which might make you feel worried, sad, or depressed.

Alcoholism and Emotional Abuse

Alcohol use disorder can cause serious disruption in families and personal relationships. During alcohol intoxication, a person’s emotions are sometimes unreliable and raw, resulting in bouts of hysteria, anger, crying, or even verbal or physical abuse. This leads others to avoid the person out of fear or inability to cope.

The person abusing alcohol is often seen as easily provoked, untrustworthy, unreliable, and unworthy of respect. Unfortunately, these are often some of the emotions that lead to alcohol use disorder in the first place. As a result, the cycle of abuse continues and feeds into itself.

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Long-Term Mental Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol use may temporarily relieve someone struggling with emotional or mental health. Over the long term, however, alcohol abuse can make these problems worse. Consuming alcohol as a way to cope can lead to an alcohol use disorder — the clinical term for alcohol addiction.

Individuals with an alcohol use disorder show specific symptoms, such as continuing to drink even when it affects their mental and physical health or causes problems in relationships with family and friends. In other words, the issues a person tries to fix with alcohol may worsen as alcohol addiction develops.

Other long-term effects of alcohol abuse include issues with learning and memory, social problems, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Overall, alcohol hurts emotional and mental health, even if it temporarily numbs emotions or creates feelings of euphoria.

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Residential Alcohol Rehab Treatment

Many people struggle with controlling their drinking at some time in their lives. More than 14 million adults ages 18 and older have alcohol use disorder (AUD), and 1 in 10 children live in a home with a parent with a drinking problem. The good news is that no matter how severe the problem may seem, most people with AUD can benefit from some treatment. Research shows that about one-third of people treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms one year later. Many others substantially reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related problems. [6]

When asked how alcohol problems are treated, people commonly think of 12-step programs or 28-day inpatient rehab but may have difficulty naming other options. Various treatment methods are currently available, thanks to significant advances in the field over the past 60 years. Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and what may work for one person may not be a good fit for someone else. Simply understanding the different options can be an important first step.

For anyone thinking about treatment, talking to a primary care doctor is an important first step—he or she can be a good source for treatment referrals and medications. A primary care doctor can also:

  • Evaluate a patient’s drinking pattern 
  • Help craft a treatment plan
  • Evaluate overall health
  • Assess if medications for alcohol may be appropriate

Individuals are advised to talk to their doctors about the best form of primary treatment. Generally, residential rehab is considered as one of the highest treatment programs, with 24-hour medical supervision and comprehensive therapies.

Detox Treatment

The first step in treatment is medical detox. It will help you navigate the complicated withdrawal process but doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior contributing to heroin abuse. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can offer the necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the emotional effects of alcohol withdrawals.

Psychotherapy

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of depression, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves changing both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression. 
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Substance abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorders and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis programs treat both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. This strategy treats both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

It is never too late to seek help for yourself or a loved one. To determine the most effective ways to treat alcohol addiction and overcome the emotional effects of alcohol, it’s crucial to get an accurate assessment of all the symptoms. When a mental health professional has evaluated the symptoms, it may be determined that another form of mental condition is present and needs a particular treatment.

emotional effects of alcohol
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Sources

[1] Sayette MA. The effects of alcohol on emotion in social drinkers. Behav Res Ther. 2017 Jan;88:76-89. DOI: 10.1016/j.brat.2016.06.005. PMID: 28110679; PMCID: PMC5724975. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5724975/
[2] Myths About Alcohol – https://dmh.mo.gov/alcohol-drug/satop/myths
[3] Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders – https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/90-98.htm#:~:text=Alcohol%20abuse%20can%20cause%20signs,are%20alcohol%E2%80%93induced%20syndromes). – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
[4] Steele CM, Southwick L. Alcohol and social behavior I: The psychology of drunken excess. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1985 Jan;48(1):18-34. DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.48.1.18. PMID: 3981386. – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3981386/

[5] Ashton K, Bellis MA, Davies AR, Hughes K, Winstock A. Do emotions related to alcohol consumption differ by alcohol type? An international cross-sectional survey of emotions associated with alcohol consumption and influence on drink choice in different settings. BMJ Open. 2017 Nov 20;7(10):e016089. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016089. PMID: 29158427; PMCID: PMC5701978. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5701978/
[6] Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help – https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help

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