How does alcohol affect your mood?

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published February 27, 2019

Key Takeaways

Do you find yourself feeling overly emotional after drinking alcohol? Do you choose certain types of alcohol to induce specific moods? If so, you are not alone. Different types of alcoholic drinks can lead to different emotions, which can also vary according to age and gender, according to the results of an international cross-sectional survey published in BMJ Open.

Alcohol has long been correlated with mood. People tend to drink alcohol to moderate emotional experiences, with the intent of either decreasing negative emotions or promoting positive ones. An emerging body of evidence supports the alcohol-related harms caused by those who drink alcohol to individuals around them and the greater community (eg, violence and antisocial behavior).

 “Understanding emotions associated with alcohol consumption is imperative to addressing alcohol misuse, providing insight into what emotions influence drink choice between different groups in the population,” wrote researchers, led by Kathryn Ashton, Policy, Research and International Development, Public Health Wales NHS Trust, Cardiff, Wales.

Of 87,925 initial survey respondents, 29,836 were included in the final analysis. Respondents included individuals aged 18-34 years from various countries who reported drinking red wine, white wine, beer, or spirits during the previous 12 months via an online anonymous questionnaire made available in 11 languages. Notably, all survey respondents included in the study drank all types of alcohol.

In total, 29.8% of respondents noted feeling aggressive when imbibing spirits vs 7.1% who drank red wine (P < 0.001). Women were reported to have stronger emotional expression as a result of alcohol consumption than did men; women more commonly reported feeling all positive (energized, confident, relaxed, and sexy) and negative (tired, restless, ill, and tearful) emotions assessed—with the exception of aggression—upon drinking alcohol. Level of alcohol dependency was positively associated with feeling all assessed emotions, with chances of aggression being highest.

Respondents aged 18-24 years reported feeling more emotions following alcohol consumption, with the exception of tiredness and aggression. Younger respondents also reported feeling tired and relaxed after drinking red wine or spirits; whereas, older respondents reported these feelings after drinking beer or white wine.

A larger number of respondents without high school education reported both positive emotions (eg, energized, sexy, or confident) and negative emotions (eg, aggressive, ill, or tearful) vs those who attended high school. 

Emotions differed between demographic groups, even after controlling for sociodemographic covariates and level of alcohol dependency.

With respect to alcohol choice, the oldest age group more commonly chose to drink alcohol that made them feel tired and relaxed when outside the house, whereas the youngest age groups chose drinks that made them feel tired when tippling at home. When out, the youngest age group chose alcohol that made them feel energized, sexy, and confident.

“Potential differences in the emotional consequences (both positive and negative) of drinking different types of alcohol (for example, spirits vs beer) and how emotional expectations from experiences of different alcohol types influence drink choice remain relatively unexplored areas,” wrote the authors.

Expectations about perceived effects of drinking alcohol influence a person’s decision whether they start and continue to drink alcohol and become dependent, as supported by the evidence. People perceive alcohol as able to temporarily assuage negative emotions, as well as boost positive emotions such as confidence.

The authors acknowledged that one limitation of the current study is that findings are based on non-probability samples of people who chose to complete the survey, and these findings may not necessarily reflect the general population. Additionally, the analysis is based on the assumption that people make rational choices when consuming alcohol.

“Results from these analyses can be used by public health bodies to better understand alcohol consumption behaviour and to inform strategies and interventions to promote changes in consumption, particularly among heavier drinkers,” concluded the authors.

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