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Drinking to Relieve Stress: The Emotional Effects of Alcohol

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

Even medical professionals turn to alcohol for solace, with just under one in six abusing alcohol at some point during their careers. Among current and former military personnel, those numbers can go even higher. For those in high-stress occupations, the relief that comes from alcohol can seem seductive.

The long-term emotional effects of alcohol, however, often ruin lives. The link between alcohol abuse, depression, and anxiety holds strong, and once that spiral starts, climbing out takes herculean effort.

If you or a loved one has started the cycle of drinking to relieve stress, you may not know what's changing. In this article, we'll cover the mental and emotional effects of alcohol and how to address them. Keep reading if you want to know more.

Short-Term Emotional Effects of Alcohol

More than nine in ten alcohol users report feeling happier while drinking. Alcohol use releases endorphins in the body, encouraging an emotional high. This short-term burst of happiness comes at a price, however, and even during alcohol use, negative emotions can often come to the fore.

Feelings like disgust, anxiety, fear, and sadness can reach new heights under the influence of alcohol. Figuring out whether those feelings come from alcohol or started as suppressed feelings from other sources can get difficult. For some, alcohol feels like it makes it easier to express those feelings at all.


Alcohol can have big effects on memory. Users may have a hard time recalling things they learned or experienced previously. They also might struggle to form new memories.

Users recall some memories more easily than others. This can make the feelings associated with traumatic memories worse, as other memories fade into the background.

Blackouts, during which users don't form new memories, can occur when a user drinks a lot. In the long term, users may feel disconnected from their lives due to large swaths of missing memories.

Overwhelming Feelings

About a quarter of alcohol users feel overwhelmed while drinking sometimes. This effect tends to hit younger users more than older users. No single mechanism causes this effect, but the combination of poor emotional regulation and worse memory management can contribute.

For those who already feel overstimulated, such as those in high-stress positions, becoming overwhelmed can get painful fast.

Suicidal Thoughts

Due to the combination of lowered impulse control, heightened emotional sensitivity, and increased depression, alcohol can often lead to suicidal thoughts or tendencies. Risk of suicide increases in men, though anyone can be affected.

This effect can compound if an alcohol user often grapples with traumatic issues. For those who often deal with high-tension situations, the effects of alcohol on emotions and behavior can call up unresolved grief or tension and cause a suicidal episode.

Long-Term Emotional Effects of Alcohol

The mental and emotional effects of alcohol don't stop after one night of drinking. Regular alcohol use can lead to issues for days. Over time, it can even lead to new mental health issues that do not abate while sober.


Many alcohol users report anxiety the day after drinking. This effect, since its timing matches up with a hangover, sometimes earns the name "hangxiety." This type of anxiety can make subsequent workdays more difficult and lead to long-term trouble.

Sometimes alcohol users drink to suppress anxiety, only to have that anxiety come back harder due to this effect. Once this occurs, a cycle starts to form that can eventually lead to alcoholism.


As a nervous system depressant, alcohol can cause a depressed mood. While this can reduce inhibitions in the short term, it can also lead to severe problems in mood regulation.

These effects get worse for those who drink often, as it causes a tolerance to build. Alcohol users with high alcohol tolerance need to drink more alcohol to achieve the same disinhibition and relaxation effects but still suffer the depressive effects.

Depression can also make the short-term effects described above worse or harder to cope with. This can in turn reduce social connection, sex drive, or even the ability to sleep.


Alcohol can contribute to the development of dementia over time. One area of the brain that faces strain during regular alcohol abuse, the hippocampus, plays a major role in forestalling dementia.

Unlike progressive dementia, however, alcohol-related dementia can slow, stop, or even begin to heal once the user stops consuming alcohol. As a result, those beginning to notice signs of dementia should cease alcohol consumption as soon as possible.

Physical Effects of Alcohol Abuse and Emotional Consequences

Alcohol abuse can affect the body as well as the mind. Physical effects can lead to knock-on emotional effects, however, so separating the two doesn't always help.

Wet brain, also known as Korsakoff's psychosis, occurs when the body doesn't get enough thiamine. Alcohol often induces it, and it leads to confusion, frustration, irritability, and chronic lying.

The depressive turns associated with alcohol can also be accentuated by accumulated health effects. Alcohol use can lead to cancer or liver damage, and users might struggle with the emotional toll of dealing with these conditions.

Don't Bottle Up Your Feelings

The emotional effects of alcohol can extend far beyond one night at the pub. In the short term, alcohol can lead to radical changes in mood and impulsive behavior, and long-term consequences can be deadly.

If you're fighting personal demons, choose a better ally than alcohol.

Reach out to us if you're in Vancouver, Washington. All messages are confidential, and we'll do our best to help you get the care you need.

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