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How Alcohol Affects Mental Health

distraught young man seated alone on couch concerned about how alcohol affects mental health

America has an alcohol problem, and it’s not hard to see why. Unlike many other addictive substances, alcohol is both legal and socially acceptable in American society. Many religious and secular events, holidays, and activities implicitly assume the presence and consumption of alcohol. How alcohol affects mental health is often not discussed or even widely considered by most Americans who are culturally and socially consumers of alcohol.

For many Americans, alcohol consumption is part of weddings, Super Bowl parties, New Year’s Eve celebrations, after-work happy hours, poker nights, and many other activities and events. However, many of these same Americans develop an alcohol use disorder—responsible drinking becomes alcohol misuse, such as binge drinking, and then leads to alcohol dependency and addiction.

Alcoholism takes a toll on not only an individual’s health and well-being but their family, friends, and professional relationships. It can lead to legal and financial troubles and, ultimately, the loss of life. 7 Summit Pathways offers alcohol addiction rehab in Tampa, Florida. Call 813.212.7149 today if you need help breaking the cycle of addiction.

How Alcohol Affects Mental Health and Well-Being

The mental effects of alcohol can take hold before someone’s drinking becomes a diagnosable problem. One night of binge drinking can produce marked changes in mental well-being for several days afterward, and the changes become more permanent as the person begins to consume alcohol more frequently. The following dimensions of mental well-being showcase how powerfully alcohol can impact mental health.


A significant portion of people with alcoholism start as “problem drinkers.” Problem drinking refers to the use of alcohol in response to specific negative events, such as a job loss, or to reduce the intensity of unpleasant emotions. In essence, people turn to alcohol to make them feel better. However, alcohol consumption is never a solution to any problem and ends up worsening mood overall.

Initially, alcohol lowers inhibition and creates temporary feelings of happiness upon consumption. However, its toxic effects require the body to work harder to eliminate the alcohol, leading to disrupted sleep and lower energy levels.

Drinking creates a temporary surge in the chemical serotonin, which makes people feel happier. Once that surge is over, people experience a “crash” that leaves them feeling anxious and unhappy. At this point, someone may choose to begin drinking again to alleviate these feelings, leading to a vicious cycle of continuous drinking. Excess alcohol consumption over the long term results in the brain producing less serotonin on its own, leading to significant mood dysregulation.


Alcohol is one of the killers of internal motivation. Once a person realizes they can have a few drinks and temporarily “turn off” their negative emotions, avoidance of those emotions becomes a central goal in life. Why spend time and effort working through problems or pursuing goals when you can purchase an artificial way to ignore them?

A hallmark of alcoholism is a loss of interest in nearly anything but finding the next drink. People developing an addiction slowly begin withdrawing from family and friends and losing performance at work or school. Alcohol becomes the only thing that matters, at the expense of long-term goals and the motivation to achieve them.


People who struggle with low self-esteem may struggle with their self-worth. They tend to believe their opinions and thoughts don’t hold as much value as those of others and that they will not achieve the same levels of success as others. Low self-esteem may be a problem in and of itself, or it could be the result of a mental illness.

Those with low self-esteem are more susceptible to relying on alcohol to dull the pangs of anxiety and stop them from obsessively thinking about their perceived inadequacies. This form of self-medication can briefly make a person feel more confident, but after the feelings of warmth and well-being subside, they only feel more anxious and more ashamed than before. The psychological effects of alcohol are never positive for very long.

Alcohol and Mental Health — Co-Occurring Disorders

It is common for alcoholism to occur alongside a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. This is known as co-occurring disorders, and it requires specialized behavioral health treatment known as dual diagnosis.

Essentially, dual diagnosis treatment addresses both the alcohol use disorder and mental health condition simultaneously. It is crucial to have specialized dual diagnosis treatment because the two conditions can exacerbate each other, making it difficult to achieve lasting recovery without addressing both.

Common Mental Health Conditions Affected by Alcohol

While alcohol can exacerbate any mental health condition and require specialized treatment, some of the most common include the following:

  • Depression – Individuals with alcohol use disorder may experience a deepening of depressive symptoms, a despair that is compounded by the effects of alcohol abuse.
  • Anxiety disorders – The misuse of alcohol can heighten feelings of anxiety and panic, contributing to a vicious cycle where alcohol is used as a coping mechanism for mounting anxiety.
  • Bipolar disorder – Alcohol can destabilize the mood of those with bipolar disorder, leading to more severe manic episodes or depressive states.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Those who have PTSD may turn to alcohol to numb the intense psychological distress associated with traumatic memories and experiences.
  • Schizophrenia – Alcohol abuse can exacerbate the symptoms of schizophrenia, including paranoia and hallucinations, making treatment and management more complex.

Seeking dual diagnosis treatment at a professional behavioral health treatment center is essential to break the cycle of addiction and restore mental health and well-being.

Contact 7 Summit Pathways for Alcohol and Mental Health Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction and a co-occurring mental health condition, please seek help at 7 Summit Pathways in Tampa, Florida. Our compassionate team of professionals understands how alcohol affects mental health. We are dedicated to helping individuals break free from the cycle of alcoholism and achieve long-term recovery. Contact us online or call 813.212.7149 to get started on the pathway to recovery today.