How Does Alcohol Affect Your Emotions?
Alcohol is a substance that can dramatically impact our emotions both during and after we consume it. To complicate things further, we also live in a culture that uses alcohol for every occasion. Happy? Celebrate with alcohol. Sad? Comfort yourself with alcohol. Bored? Entertain yourself with alcohol. Unfortunately, consuming alcohol can have some serious negative consequences for the way we feel emotionally.
When researchers first decided to study the impact of alcohol on emotions in the 1940’s, they anticipated that respondents would report feelings of stress relief and a brightening of positive emotional experiences. Instead, they found a much more complex response. Alcohol use yielded a wide range of emotional experiences, including many negative emotions like rage, anxiety, and sadness.
When alcohol is first consumed, it often produces feelings of relaxation and relief. This is because alcohol is technically a depressant - a substance that depresses (slows down) functional or nervous activity. In other words, alcohol slows down our nervous system and therefore reduces feelings of stress or anxiety when it is first consumed.
However, this depressing effect compounds on itself: the more alcohol that is consumed, the slower our nervous system becomes. This also begins impacting the brain in places that drive our actions, emotions, inhibitions, and decision making. We may become agitated or upset, or we may even become tearful. As we consume alcohol, our brains go from a “top-down” processing, where we process our actions and emotions with our more evolved, thoughtful, rational centers, to actions and emotions that are driven by primitive brain centers that rely on instinct and automatic responses.