Millions of people in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder each year. Among women, 4-8% had an alcohol use disorder in 2019 alone. While many people know that alcohol abuse can have a profound physical effect on the body, few people realize the emotional effects of alcohol use disorder. The more a woman drinks, the more her emotional wellbeing is put at risk. The emotional effects of alcohol use should certainly be acknowledged.
Alcoholism can affect every area of a person’s emotional health. Alcoholics may feel ashamed, guilty, and embarrassed about their drinking. They may also feel like they are a burden to their friends and family. Further, alcoholics often suffer from depression and anxiety.
In addition to emotional problems, alcoholics often have difficulty with interpersonal relationships. They may be more likely to engage in fights or arguments with loved ones. They may also be more likely to be unfaithful to their partners or withdraw from social activities due to their drinking. Overall, there are many ways that women’s emotional health is put at risk when they abuse alcohol. In this blog, we will focus on the mental and emotional effects of alcohol abuse.
How Alcohol Affects the Human Brain
Before we discuss the emotional effect of alcohol abuse, it is important to understand how alcohol affects the brain. When someone drinks alcohol, the bloodstream absorbs it and the alcohol travels to the brain. There, it affects the levels of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that relay signals between brain cells.
Alcohol can affect any neurotransmitter but it most often affects GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are responsible for things like mood, pleasure, and emotional stability. Alcohol abuse can disrupt the balance of these neurotransmitters, leading to emotional instability. For example, alcohol can increase levels of GABA, which can lead to feelings of relaxation and sedation.
Alcohol can also increase levels of dopamine, which can lead to feelings of euphoria or pleasure. As a result, people who abuse alcohol may become addicted to the feeling of euphoria caused by drinking. This makes them return to alcohol over and over again to continue feeling the euphoric effects of drinking. Unfortunately, as the body and brain adjust, more and more alcohol is needed to achieve these effects. This is how the cycle of addiction often starts, requiring women to seek treatment to stop drinking.
How Alcohol Abuse Affects Your Mental Health
Alcohol abuse has a profound effect on mental health. It can lead to a wide variety of emotional problems, ranging from mild to severe. Some common mental and emotional effects of alcohol abuse include:
- Depression: Alcoholics are often depressed, and their depression may be due to their drinking or may be caused by other factors.
- Anxiety: Alcoholics often experience anxiety, which may be related to their drinking or might be a separate problem.
- Mania: Some alcoholics experience episodes of mania, which can be very dangerous.
- Psychosis: Alcohol can cause psychotic symptoms in some people, such as hallucinations or delusions.
These emotional problems can be very serious and may require treatment from a mental health professional. When a woman abuses alcohol, she also puts herself at risk for worsening existing mental health conditions. For example, since alcohol is a depressant it can cause or worsen existing symptoms of depression. The same is true for other conditions such as anxiety or bipolar disorder.
What Determines Alcohol’s Impact on Your Brain?
Many factors determine how alcohol will affect your brain. While alcohol abuse produces negative emotional effects for many people, no two cases of alcohol use disorder (AUD) are the same. The following factors can affect how alcohol impacts your brain and emotional wellbeing:
- The amount of alcohol you drink
- How often do you consume alcohol
- The age at which you began drinking
- Your overall physical and mental health
- How long you’ve been drinking alcohol
- Factors such as age, education level, genetic background, and family history of alcohol abuse
Moreover, a person’s mental health can contribute greatly to their risk of developing an AUD. Women with an existing mental health condition are at higher risk of developing emotional side-effects associated with alcohol abuse.
What Parts of the Brain Does Alcohol Affect
Again, when you drink alcohol, it initially enters the bloodstream. Then, it is carried to the brain. There, it acts on various areas of the brain that control mood, behavior, movement, thinking, and sensation. The emotional effects of alcohol are a result of how alcohol affects these areas.
Alcohol can depress or stimulate different parts of the brain. For example, when alcohol inhibits the activity of the frontal lobe–which is responsible for judgment, decision-making, and moderating social behavior–a person may become more aggressive or emotional than they would be sober.
Conversely, when alcohol stimulates the limbic system–which is responsible for emotional responses such as pleasure and fear–a person may feel happier or more excited than they would be sober.
Alcohol-Related Brain Damage in Women
Concerningly, there is a correlation between alcohol abuse and brain damage. In fact, women are at a higher risk for alcohol-related brain damage compared to men. Alcohol-related brain damage can manifest in different ways but often results in emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, and irritability. Sometimes people who suffer from alcohol-related brain damage may even struggle to interpret other people’s emotions over time.
A research study conducted on teenagers found that teenage girls who abused alcohol experienced greater effects on the brain than teenage boys in the same study. Areas of the brain responsible for memory and decision-making were smaller in size when compared to the brains of girls who did not partake in binge drinking. Another study found that women are more prone to experiencing alcohol-related blackouts when compared to men. These blackouts are detrimental to long and short-term memory.
How Does Alcohol Affect You Emotionally?
The emotional effects of alcohol can be devastating. concerningly, heavy alcohol use can damage the emotional centers of the brain, leading to uncontrollable mood swings and erratic behavior. The following emotional effects are linked to alcohol abuse:
Alcohol Abuse and Stress
Alcoholism can also lead to increased levels of stress. This is because alcoholics often feel the need to drink in order to relieve stress, and when they are unable to drink, they experience very stressful withdrawal symptoms. In addition, the financial and legal problems that often result from alcoholism can be very stressful.
Alcohol Abuse and Anger
Many women who struggle with alcohol abuse also begin to struggle more and more with anger over time. This anger can be directed at anyone and anything. However, it is usually most destructive when aimed at loved ones. Alcoholism creates a very powerful emotional state that can easily lead to episodes of rage.
Alcohol contributes to anger due to its ability to increase a person’s heart rate and breath rate. Further, alcohol affects a part of the brain called the amygdala which is responsible for anger and motivation. Alcohol increases enzyme activity in this part of the brain. This leads to increased feelings of negative and hostile emotions.
Alcohol Abuse and Social Interaction
The emotional effects of alcohol abuse can take a toll on women socially. Women may become isolated from their friends and family, as they begin to make poor decisions and put themselves in dangerous situations. Alcoholism can also lead to emotional outbursts and anger issues. This is likely due to the fact that alcohol impairs a person’s judgment and reasoning skills.
Alcohol Abuse and Anxiety
Some women turn to alcohol to ease their anxiety. However, alcohol only worsens anxiety in the long run. Women who drink alcohol are more likely to suffer from panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder. In fact, heavy drinking is one of the biggest risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder.
Alcohol Abuse and Depression
Depression is also a common emotional side effect of alcoholism. Women who drink heavily are often more depressed than women who do not drink heavily. They are also more likely to attempt suicide due to this.
Alcohol contributes to depression because of how it affects the brain. When a person drinks alcohol, it interferes with the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that is responsible for mood regulation. When there is not enough serotonin, a person can become depressed.
Alcohol Abuse and PTSD
Women who experience trauma are especially at risk for developing PTSD if they abuse alcohol. Alcohol can make traumatic memories more intense and cause a person to feel more anxiety and fear.
Alcohol Abuse and Relationship Problems
Heavy drinking can also lead to problems in relationships. Drinking heavily can put a strain on even the healthiest relationships due to how alcohol affects a person’s behavior. Reckless behavior is associated with alcohol abuse. This leads to fights and arguments between individuals in a relationship.
Overcoming the Emotional Effects of Alcohol Abuse with New Directions
Alcohol abuse is emotionally devastating. It can leave individuals feeling isolated, ashamed, and helpless. However, there is hope. There are many treatment options available that can help individuals overcome the emotional effects of alcohol abuse.
Here at New Directions for Women, we provide compassionate care for women seeking to overcome addiction to drugs or alcohol. If you are ready to start the journey toward sobriety, we are here to help. Contact us today to discuss which program would work best for you.