Most people experience hard emotions on a regular basis, such as feelings of anxiety, stress, sadness, or anger. The pressure and tensions from hard feelings are normal parts of being alive, and something we must all find ways to deal with.
Alcoholics often are attracted to alcohol as a way to suppress, or bury and ignore, these hard emotions. While alcohol can be an effective way to numb emotional pain in the short-term, it is overall not a good way to truly deal with hard emotions. Here are some of the reasons alcohol can be attractive as a way to suppress emotion, why it doesn't work in the long run, and what better alterative coping mechanisms would look like.
How alcohol affects the brain
On a basic level, alcohol is a depressant, but it can also act as a kind of indirect stimulant. That is because alcohol, particularly at excessive levels, releases large amounts of several different neurotransmitters, or chemical signals in the brain that affect mood.
Alcohol suppresses glutamate, which normally increases your energy levels, bringing things down to a standstill, while increasing GABA, which produces feelings of calm, and of slowing down. At the same time alcohol releases high levels of dopamine, jolting your brain's pleasure centers and producing pleasurable feelings.
Thus, the brain gets pulled in multiple directions, being both calmed and stimulated at the same time. This overall results in an elevation of your feelings, and a letting go of your bad feelings, as tensions are released and your pleasure centers are activated. Thus, alcohol does in deed have a potent effect on altering your short-term mood, and that is one of the central reasons some people find it highly addictive.
Why it doesn't last
One of many problems with the use of alcohol as a mood-enhancer is that its effect will be diminished over time. The brain simply reacts to this artificial alternation of its chemistry by receiving neurotransmitters differently, being less likely to be affected by them.
Your body thus develops an inability to respond to alcohol in the same way, in a condition called tolerance. At this point, the emerging alcoholic will have to start drinking more and more in order to get the same positive moods, or suppression of negative moods. The underlying cause behind your negative feelings remains, even as your coping mechanism diminishes its ability to work, leading you down a lifestyle that can cause tremendous harm.
Furthermore, emotional suppression does not make bad emotions go away, but simply makes you more vulnerable. You continue to drink more and more trying to bury the pain of life experiences, putting your mind and body at tremendous risk, while doing nothing that can truly allow you to deal with your problems and grow into emotional maturity.
Many people enter into the sobriety process, but continue down the same road of suppressing their emotions, simply finding new ways to distract themselves and ignore their underlying bad feelings. Burying your emotions can cause physical illness, as your body absorbs the stresses you refuse to acknowledge, relational problems, and unexamined mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Getting past emotional suppression
The best way to deal with emotions, rather then repressing them, is to acknowledge them. With either yourself (in the form of a journal, or meditative self-talk), or with a supportive friend or support group, learn how to express what you are thinking and feeling.
Allow your inner tensions to get expressed outwardly, be examined, and treated with empathy and gentleness. The key is learning how to express and regulate your emotions, so that they become a part of you learn how to accept, not something you have to fear or try to run away from. Slowly, by learning to accept and love yourself, and value your feelings as a part of you, you can discover a better way to be truly present and healthy in the world.