Psychological Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is a highly addictive drink that is widely consumed across the UK. According to reports, around 29.2 million adults aged sixteen and over drink alcohol.

Alcohol and mental health are closely linked. It is a psychoactive substance found in drinks such as wine, beer, cider, and spirits. Alcohol is a depressant that can affect your mental health as it impacts the neurotransmitters within the brain that control your behaviour, thoughts, and feelings. In small quantities, alcohol is reasonably safe and doesn’t cause long-term damage. However, if consumed in large quantities over long periods, the effects on the body can be both severe and dangerous and can cause mental health problems. 

Effects of Alcohol on the Body 

When you consume alcohol, it is absorbed into the blood and circulates up to the brain. Typically people will drink alcohol for its social and relaxing qualities. Alcohol affects everyone differently. If consumed in small amounts, it can create a feeling of relaxation but can also cause energy boosts depending on the person and the type of alcohol. 

If higher concentrations of alcohol are consumed, then cognitive function will be impaired. It is important to be able to recognise how much alcohol is too much. Drinking too much can lead to intoxication, and behaviour may be significantly impacted. Signs of intoxication can be identified by analysing speech, balance, coordination, and behaviour. Some symptoms may include: 

  • Lack of coordination, such as stumbling or falling over
  • Flushing of the face
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Speaking distinctively louder than usual or slurred
  • Damp or clammy skin or excessive sweating
  • Mood swings or personality changes, such as aggression, depression, or excessive excitement 
  • Drowsiness

The day after alcohol is consumed, you may experience the after effects, commonly known as a hangover. This is due to both dehydration and high toxicity levels in the body. Typically the effects of a hangover will last for around 24 hours, but more severe cases may take up to 3 days to subside. However, although these effects are primarily physical, they can impact your mental health. 

Anxiety After Alcohol 

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to many mental health problems, one of the main issues that can arise as a direct consequence of drinking is alcohol-induced anxiety. Since alcohol is a depressant, it affects the brain’s chemical balance of serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals affect the brain’s level of happiness. When alcohol is consumed, it can create a relaxing sensation; however, when the effects wear off, you might feel worse and on edge. From here, a vicious cycle of dependence can often set in:

  • First, you drink alcohol to unwind and relax. 
  • Next, you begin to feel calm as the alcohol circulates the body and affects the brain.
  • After, you might feel anxious as a direct symptom of alcohol withdrawal within the hangover period.
  • Finally, you may desire to drink again as your anxiety levels rise. 

This is especially true for people already susceptible to high anxiety levels. Using alcohol as a coping strategy may feel like a short-term fix, but it will eventually worsen issues over time. 

Alcohol Dependence 

Substance abuse, such as drinking to relieve anxiety and binge drinking, can eventually lead to alcohol dependence. This is also known as alcoholism and can be a severe problem for people who develop this dependence. If you continue to drink alcohol over a long period, changes may begin to occur within the brain’s structure, and the functionality can be impacted. These types of changes can eventually compromise brain function, and dependence can begin to develop. This can lead to chronic issues both physically and psychologically, and the effects of which can be hard to control. These changes that take place can continue long after alcohol consumption has stopped. 

Alcohol abuse or excessive drinking habits can greatly affect your mental well-being. When someone becomes addicted, it can considerably impact their mood and mental health. The main psychological symptoms that may arise as a result of alcohol dependence are:

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Agitation
  • Stress 

These symptoms are likely to arise in the absence of alcohol. Depending on the level of dependence severity of the symptoms may vary. If you or someone you know is regularly drinking and is displaying these signs when they are not under the influence, you should seek medical advice and support. 

psychological effects of alcohol

Further Psychological Effects Linked to Alcohol 

Aside from the obvious mental health conditions that can arise from drinking heavily, mental illnesses such as psychosis can be triggered. This is less common; however, if someone has a predisposition to severe mental health issues or is already exhibiting signs of other conditions such as bipolar disorder, excess alcohol consumption can occasionally cause psychosis due to imbalances it creates in the brain through acute intoxication and withdrawal symptoms. Psychosis is a severe mental health condition that can cause someone to feel detached from reality. They might experience things such as delusions or hallucinations. It can be difficult to treat and may need to be managed using psychological therapies or medication. 

Alcohol abuse has also been linked to an increased risk of suicide and self-harm. Drinking heavily can cause individuals to act or behave impulsively and change their feelings about themselves and others around them. This can potentially result in actions they might not otherwise have engaged in, such as self-harm or suicidal thoughts. There is a distinct link between excessive drinking and suicidal behaviour, thoughts, and attempts. 

Psychological Effects of Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be moderate to severe, depending on the level of dependency. Withdrawal symptoms are part of a condition called alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which is caused by a reaction when an individual has developed an alcohol addiction. Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological and can cause mental disorders. Symptoms of withdrawal can be dangerous, and medical attention should be sought if you are worried about yourself or someone who is suffering from withdrawal. 

Some of the main psychological symptoms include: 

  • Lack of appetite
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of concentration 
  • Insomnia

People who regularly drink may find they experience these symptoms in the absence of alcohol. It is important to acknowledge these symptoms if they occur and get support if needed. If treated adequately, the symptoms should subside over time. However, this will be dependent on the level of addiction. 

Seeking Support 

If you or someone you know is struggling with their alcohol intake or alcohol use disorder, there is support available to help alleviate these harmful symptoms. Some of these include: 

  • Mental health services – external support and therapy can help you to work through challenges. These can include psychotherapy, CBT, art therapy, and EMDR.
  • Encouraged drink-free days – if you notice that your mental well-being is beginning to suffer due to binge drinking or alcohol misuse, think about taking alcohol-free days or stop drinking altogether and find alternative alcohol-free drinks.
  • Support groups – talking to others with similar troubles can help you unburden any heavy thoughts or feelings in a supportive and understanding environment. 
  • Talking to friends and family – having a strong supportive network and speaking openly and freely will help you manage your feelings and access support when needed.

At The Revoke Programme, we specialise in a number of different therapies aimed at helping people to deal with the effects of alcohol and promote good mental health. Contact us today to find out more about the alcohol support services we offer. 

psychological effects of alcohol

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