Alcoholism causes a variety of physical consequences that are well known and easy to recognize, but it also causes a variety of psychological consequences that people rarely discuss. When people talk about the “effects of alcoholism” they often only talk about the physical effects; people rarely talk about alcoholism and the mental effects. Because of this, many alcoholics will continue to self-medicate their mental symptoms without realizing that their drinking is causing these problems in the first place.
Alcoholism and the Mental Effects
The mental effects of alcoholism vary from person to person, depending on how much you drink and how long you’ve been drinking. People who rarely drink will experience feelings of relaxation and an energizing release of inhibitions. People who drink a moderate amount on a regular basis will begin to experience feelings of nervousness, melancholy, restlessness, irritation and some relationship troubles. People who drink heavily and often will begin to experience insomnia, paranoia and hallucinations.
Other common mental effects of alcoholism are:
* Depression. The old saying that you can “drown your sorrows” by drinking alcohol comes from the fact that many people drink to make their feelings go away. Drinking may provide a temporary escape, but the truth is that prolonged drinking can actually bring on feelings of depression while you’re drinking and even when you’re sober.
* Dysthymia. Alcoholism can lead to dysthymia, a disorder less severe than major depression but one that causes many of the same symptoms: fatigue, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, unusual eating or sleeping habits, and a persistently depressed mood.
* Anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant that decreases activity within your brain’s nervous system. When combined with the physical stresses that alcohol abuse causes, feelings of anxiety can be aggravated. These feelings can include restlessness, nightmares, general discontent and general feelings of anxiety.
* Personality changes. Alcohol abuse can cause big changes in your personality. Normal personality traits can disappear during intoxication and be replaced with selfish, angry and egotistical behavior. Aggression and mood swings are very common as well as a general deterioration of morals. Alcohol slows your brain’s synapses and chemically alters your body by affecting serotonin levels, the chemical responsible for transmitting signals of mood to your brain. These physical changes cause your emotions to get out of control and cause your do say and do things you normally wouldn’t do.
* Compulsive behavior. Alcoholics are addicts with the same impulses and urges as drug addicts. Someone who is dependent on alcohol will become obsessed with drinking and is no different than a drug addict seeking his next hit. Your obsession with alcohol can lead you make decisions that negatively impact your life and cause you to lose interest in activities and people you normally enjoy when you were sober.
* Denial. Denial is a common characteristic of alcoholism. Alcoholics will deny they have a problem in order to keep drinking, or may not even realize how serious their drinking really is. Denial is a dangerous place to be mentally because it can keep you from getting the help you so desperately need.
* Co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring mental and mood disorders often exist in alcoholics. They can be caused by the mental effects of heavy drinking or can be the reason heavy drinking occurs in the first place. Oftentimes a person with a co-occurring disorder such as depression or anxiety will become addicted to alcohol after trying to self-medicate their symptoms.
Getting Treatment for Alcoholism and the Mental Effects
The mental effects of alcohol can lead many alcoholics to continue drinking in order to self-medicate their symptoms. Getting treatment for alcoholism and the mental effects should involve a rehab facility that offers dual-diagnosis therapy for co-occurring disorders. Talking to a medical doctor about your symptoms can help you determine what type of treatment you’ll need.