If you want to know about the short and long-term emotional effects of alcohol, you’re in the right place. Many people drink alcohol to deal with emotional stress or enhance social situations. Rather than providing a solution, alcohol abuse can exacerbate existing emotional and social challenges.
Why Does Alcohol Affect Emotions?
The cerebellum, a vital brain region involved in memory and emotions, is particularly sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Alcohol also affects the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for rational thinking and consciousness. When we drink alcohol, it triggers an increase in the production of serotonin and endorphins in our bodies. These neurotransmitters regulate our emotions, promote relaxation, and induce feelings of happiness.
Why Do People Use Alcohol For Emotions?
There are various reasons why people use alcohol to influence, numb, or change their emotions. This unhealthy coping mechanism can originate from home life if someone in their family has an alcohol use disorder or anxiety disorder. It can also originate from seeing friends or strangers drink to forget about a stressful work week or relationship issues, causing individuals to follow their example or peer pressure.
- Painful Feelings: When individuals turn to alcohol to cope with painful emotions, they often seek relief from fear, hurt, sadness, grief, jealousy, shame, embarrassment, guilt, or loneliness.
- Happy Feelings: Some people use alcohol to enhance feelings of happiness, seeking to intensify emotions like delight, excitement, thrill, self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of connection and belonging in social situations. This motive is particularly common among younger individuals.
- Relaxation: Alcohol can create a perception of emotional calmness. Many individuals report experiencing sensations of comfort, emotional numbness, and less concern about life or social problems. These feelings arise because alcohol increases the levels of GABA neurotransmitters, which reduces nervous system activity and induces a soothing effect.
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Short-Term Emotional Effects of Alcohol
It doesn’t take long to experience the short-term emotional effects of alcohol.
- Heightened anxiety: Drinking alcohol can lead to increased feelings of anxiety that can last for several hours or even a whole day. Some individuals may rely on alcohol as a way to cope with anxiety, which can lead to a dependence on alcohol and further exacerbate feelings of worry.
- Artificial euphoria: Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can create a false sense of euphoria. This may drive individuals to binge drink to recreate those pleasurable feelings. However, as the body becomes accustomed to relying on alcohol for happiness, it gradually loses the ability to experience genuine happiness without it.
- Reversed effects: Alcohol is a depressant, and consuming too much or too quickly can result in feelings of anxiety and depression. For individuals who already struggle with clinical anxiety or depression, alcohol can intensify these symptoms. Paradoxically, alcohol can impair rational thinking and convince individuals to drink more to alleviate the negative effects.
Long-Term Emotional Effects of Alcohol
Besides physical effects, long-term alcohol misuse can lead to severe emotional and situational changes.
- Social withdrawal: Individuals may begin to withdraw from family members and friends to avoid judgment or shame. Social isolation can further worsen feelings of loneliness, exacerbate emotional distress, and contribute to a sense of detachment from supportive relationships.
- New social circle: Many people with alcohol addiction develop relationships with others with similar addictions or mental health issues. They may subconsciously find these social circles to validate their substance use.
- Impact on marriage: An alcohol use disorder often leads to significant changes in marriage, with the University of Buffalo reporting that 50% of marriages end in divorce if one or both partners are heavy drinkers.
- Relationship challenges: The emotional and behavioral changes caused by excessive alcohol consumption can strain relationships with family members, friends, and romantic partners. This can lead to a breakdown in communication, trust issues, and emotional distance between individuals.
- Work relationships: Alcoholism negatively affects relationships in the work environment, leading to conflicts with co-workers and potential job loss.
- Potential violent behavior: 15% of robberies, 37% of sexual violence, 27% of aggravated assaults, 66% of domestic violence, and 40% of murder have been linked to alcohol use before or during the crime.
How Addiction Treatment Can Challenge The Emotional Effects Of Alcohol
Addiction treatment plays a vital role in addressing the emotional effects of alcohol and helping individuals regain control over their lives. Various therapy methods are employed to specifically target emotional issues and restore the body’s ability to regulate mood after detoxification. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with alcohol abuse.
In some cases, medication-assisted treatment can help to address specific mental health conditions or co-occurring disorders. Certain detox medications, like suboxone or naltrexone, can help stabilize brain chemistry and alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mood-related challenges, providing individuals with a better foundation for emotional regulation while going through the initial stages of alcohol withdrawal.
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