The Long-Term Effects of Drinking Alcohol
It’s no secret that alcohol doesn’t exactly have all the nutrients of a morning kale smoothie. The effects of drinking can be felt as harshly and swiftly as that first shot of vodka – or whiskey… or whatever. Depending on a number of factors, including your body-mass, the food already in your stomach and your overall tolerance, short-term alcohol symptoms can hit you within the hour of your first drink. Yes, some of these effects are a joy. We begin to feel happy and uplifted. Our inhibitions free up a little bit, causing us to be social, daring… horny. Liquid courage, isn’t that what they say?
But many of us know all too well, phase 2 of this biphasic mood stimulator. And it ain’t pretty. Short-term effects include:
- Memory loss/blackouts
- Depressed mood
Don’t get me wrong Psych2Go readers, I’m not here to lecture you. I’m no hypocrite. I’ve had my fair share of shots and drinking contests at University parties, my fair share of nights draped over my toilet regretting my 8th shot and wishing I had stopped at shot number 4.
But I will warn all of you binge-drinkers out there. Don’t make it a habit! Social drinking and keeping to your limit will do your body good; the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) suggests a max of no more than 10 drinks a week, or 2 a day for women. Men need not more than 15 weekly, or 3 a day most days – with break days in between.
Are you someone who might be taking in more than your recommended share? You aren’t just doing your body an injustice; you’re also affecting your brain for the long-term.
Here are some long-term effects alcohol has on your mental health.
1. Alcohol Screws Up Your Sleep
Sounds a little counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Doesn’t alcohol make most people drowsy? I know that when I’ve had my second glass of wine, I’m about ready to pass out where ever I’m sitting. According to the National Sleep Foundation, as many as 20% of Americans use alcohol to help fall asleep.
Well, we’re all wrong, people! Alcohol before bed can interrupt your natural circadian rhythm. It may help us to fall asleep, but a number of physiological alcoholic effects – including dehydration – makes us wake up before we’ve had a real chance at rest.
Alcohol also blocks REM sleep, a largely important part of the sleep cycle that helps to restore your mindfulness and energy. This is what attributes to that never-ending tiredness you feel when you wake up after a night of drinking.
2. Alcohol Messes With Your Memory
Are you keen on keg stands and beer pong every Friday night? Well, there might not be a very good chance you’ll be acing your test come Monday morning. Alcohol can slow your brain processes and damages the memory stores of your brain. You may have experienced this short-term – ever woken up after a night of drinking and realized you don’t remember entire portions of your night? That’s alcohol causing your brain to actually stop recording information in your memory bank for later recollection.
But binge drinking or drinking excessively over long periods of time can also affect your memory for the long term. Recalling things like tasks you’ve been meaning to do, or even what you ate for breakfast in the morning, can become a challenge.
3. Alcohol Ruins your Mood
Anxiety and Anger
Alcohol can do a whole range of things to your general mood. As I’ve mentioned, alcohol is biphasic but is at its core, a depressant. So that first drink or two after a hard day might help you feel relaxed and loose, but that feeling can quickly turn into anxiety and agitation. Some of us may feel mood affectation to the point of anger and may be explosive and irritable while we drink, or after a day or two of drinking.
Regular drinking can increase your risk of depression, or depressive symptoms. Drinking regularly lowers the levels of mood-stabilizing serotonin in your brain, opening you up to major depressive disorder, and even suicidal behavior.
A study on people hospitalized for attempted suicide found that alcoholics were 75% more likely to successfully commit suicide than other attempters.
Another study based in Scotland saw 27% of men and 19% of women blame alcohol as a reason for self-harming. So, as tempting as it can be, it’s very important to not self-medicate with alcohol… the short-term relief doesn’t make up for the long-term effects, which can leave you worse off.
Yes, alcohol can be fun. Nobody’s telling you not to drink! But it’s important to remember to use alcohol in moderation and to follow the CAMH guidelines on suggested drinking amounts in order to protect your body and your mind from harm and degradation.
It’s tempting to slug down a drink or two after a long and hard day, but using alcohol to self-medicate a bad mood can lead to dependency and addiction. Tempted to have a glass? Think about a soothing cup of herbal tea instead!
Worried about your drink intake while you’re out? Make sure you keep to one drink an hour to prevent an oversaturation of alcohol in your system. Easily intoxicated? Make every second or third drink you take a virgin one. If you’re like me, you have friends who can be a little pushy when they want you to have another drink with them. My advice? Ginger-ale passes off nicely as cheap beer.
Thanks for reading! How’d you like the article? Do you have any thoughts or stories to share about alcohol? Do you have a night you’ll never forget – or would like to forget forever? Let Psych2Go know in the comments below.
I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve relapsed twice and the last time, which was 4 years ago, I almost died. As a matter of fact, my doctor told me that that was most likely my last strike. If I return to drinking alcohol in the amounts I was drinking which was as much as I could get my hands on 24/7, I will die the next time. As a result of long term alcohol consumption, I have been diagnosed with and suffer from depression, anxiety and bi polar disorders. My short term memory is mostly shot as a direct result of drinking so much alcohol over such a long period of time. Trust me, it’s just st not worth it. I struggle daily with the demon that possesses me. That being the demon of alcoholism.