Alcoholism would not exist unless alcohol produced some "good feelings," or states of being that may seem fun, desirable, or a numbing of unresolved pain. However, a closer look at the psychological effects of drinking paint a much more complex and potentially dangerous picture.
Whether you choose to drink or not, it is helpful to have a better understanding of these potential effects, to make an informed decision about what is truly helpful for your well-being.
Raises feelings of depression and anxiety
Although at the time it may seem like alcohol can numb negative feelings like depression and anxiety, in the long run, alcohol makes those feelings worse. If it does seem to help, as effects of drunkenness wear off, these feelings return, often worse then before.
Chemically, alcohol is a depressant, and so can directly bring on negative emotions and feelings of sadness. There is some question among researchers about exactly how and why depression and alcoholism are so closely connected.
Part of it is related to how alcohol affects neurotransmitters, or the chemicals that send singles to your brain, altering the way it processes emotion. In addition, alcohol, particularly consumed excessively over a long period, can disrupt your health, relationships, and performance of life's task, brining on feelings of stress or shame.
If you are self-medicating with alcohol to try to deal with a mental illness, it is both far safer and far more effective to seek treatment for that condition.
Makes it difficult to control aggression and promotes irresponsible decision-making
Everyone's life is sometimes filled with small annoyances, little things that can promote frustration when things are not going the way you desired. Normally, you are able to handle these emotions internally, deciding to hold your emotions in check, and, for example, not to lash out violently at the slow driver or the barista who gets your coffee order wrong.
Biologically speaking, the main part of your brain that enables you to be such a nice guy is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex allows you to process your emotions, to think through things carefully, and engage in the kind of abstract reasoning that makes us behave in responsible ways.
Drinking alcohol suppresses the neurotransmitters that allow the prefrontal cortex to function, disabling its ability to reason about behavior. As a result, the drinker finds him or herself behaving more impulsively as the brain as fewer resources to not simply react on the basis of emotion.
This removal of inhibition can make outbursts of aggression more likely. It can also encourage more risky behavior, committing crimes or engaging in sexual behavior that would not seem plausible otherwise.
A study by the Department of Justice found that the consumption of alcohol played a role in 36 percent of those who committed a crime.
Makes it harder to put things into perspective
Under the prefrontal cortex-blocking haze of alcohol, it can be harder to process a situation, because it makes it harder to focus on multiple cues at the same time. It causes us to focus more strongly on some cues, but unable to see others.
This is one of the central reasons driving under the influence of alcohol is so dangerous, because in driving we have to focus on multiple things at the same time. It also can create conflict and raise anxiety in us without proper cause.
For example, you could focus too much on your partner talking to someone you feel jealous of, not realizing he or she has been interacting with other people as well.
Alcohol slows down the brain's ability to process information, so that it becomes more difficult to memorize or remember things. At very high levels of consumption, the brain may simply stop building up memories, creating a "blackout" where you may be unsure of what happened under intoxication.
Heavy drinking over long periods can make recalling details much more difficult, a permanent cloud that lasts even when alcohol isn't consumed.