Although drinking is often a social event and can be associated with fun times out with friends, this addictive elixir isn’t always something to smile about. Many people will experience the emotional ups and downs of being intoxicated by alcohol, but especially when consumed in excess or when alcoholism is at play, serious psychological changes are not uncommon. Because withdrawal is always a possibility for those who drink heavily, our Pennsylvania rehab is taking a closer look at the connection between alcohol and mood swings and when it’s time to get help.
Does Alcohol Cause Mood Swings?
Yes, alcohol can cause mood swings and other emotional side effects. Although alcohol may lead to what could be considered positive mood changes initially, the impact of drinking on mood usually takes a turn for the worse.
Alcohol impacts the central nervous system (CNS) and brain chemistry, particularly the function and balance of the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and dopamine. Drinking elevates these chemicals, which is why drinkers typically experience relaxation and happiness (the “buzzed” feeling) when they start to drink. However, as alcohol consumption increases, so does alcohol’s impact on mood.
Alcohol causes mood swings for several reasons, including:
- GABA: As we previously mentioned, alcohol enhances the activity of GABA, which is known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means that GABA reduces brain activity, contributing to feelings of relaxation and sedation. While this can initially cause a sense of euphoria and decreased anxiety, a rebound effect can occur as alcohol use continues, increasing anxiety, irritability, and mood swings.
- Dopamine: Alcohol also affects the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. At first, drinking can lead to a surge in dopamine levels, resulting in feelings of happiness and pleasure. However, as the effects of alcohol wear off or the person continues to drink, dopamine levels may drop, causing feelings of sadness, irritability, or depression.
- Dehydration and nutrition: Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can impact mood, as well, causing irritability and poor energy. Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to nutrient deficiencies, affecting brain function and emotional regulation over time.
- Sleep disruption: Alcohol can disrupt the quality of sleep and sleep patterns, as well. Of course, poor sleep is known for its impact on mood.
- Interpersonal effects: Alcohol can impair judgment and decision-making, leading to social problems as well as an increased likelihood of risky behaviors. Negative experiences or problems linked to alcohol use can also contribute to mood swings.
Alcohol Mood Swings
While many people can have one or two drinks without any problems, several drinks can lead to more complicated effects. Especially when someone starts to become dependent on the substance but refuses to get alcohol abuse treatment, their mood may become uncontrollable.
In the short-term, alcohol can have noticeable effects on a person’s mood and behaviors. Someone under the influence may feel stronger emotions than normal or experience more dramatic highs and lows. It is not uncommon for someone drinking to feel:
- Excited and happy
- Sad and depressed
- More confident
- More trusting
Alcohol and Violence
Additionally, alcoholics have often been stereotyped as being violent and aggressive. While this isn’t always the case, one study did find that 42% of violent crimes involved alcohol.1 While alcohol may not be the direct cause of violence, this number is still alarming.
Furthermore, not everyone who is an alcoholic will resort to violent crimes, but alcoholic mood swings are not uncommon either. Other research has found that alcohol may lead to more aggressive behavior because it interferes with normal brain functioning and leads to more impulsivity.1
Alcohol Withdrawal and Mood Swings
An alcoholic may also experience mood swings after drinking alcohol because of withdrawal. As they begin to detox from alcohol and go through withdrawal, their body struggles to function without the substance in their system.
Mood changes are a common symptom of withdrawal, and these alcoholic mood swings may lead to bouts of irritability, depression, and anxiety that can range in severity. In some cases, the drinker may also suffer from a separate mood disorder, and heavy drinking makes their symptoms worse.
Alcohol and Mental Illness
Alcoholism may even trigger an underlying mood disorder that was once manageable and mostly dormant. The individual may turn to alcohol to self-medicate or numb their pain, but with time, this coping style will likely make their problems worse, and alcohol may lead to more intense changes in mood.
A long-term relationship between alcohol and mood swings may even trigger a mental disorder. Alcohol-induced mood disorder is a mental health condition that occurs as a result of long-term and heavy alcohol consumption. It’s classified as a substance-induced mood disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by professionals to diagnose mental health disorders.
Alcohol mood disorders are characterized by significant changes in mood. Individuals with alcohol mood disorders will experience mood swings and emotional instability related to drinking.
Heavy and chronic drinking may result not only in mood swings and problems with emotional regulation but also physical problems, as well. From liver disease to addiction, heavy drinking can greatly impact a person’s life.
The goal of our drug rehab in Pennsylvania is to help people find lasting sobriety from both drugs and alcohol. If you or someone you care about is battling a substance use disorder, call Clearbrook Treatment Centers today at 570-536-9621 or contact us online for more information about our levels of addiction treatment.
- NIH – Alcohol Alert