How Alcohol Impacts Your Mood: Study Shows Major Link Between Spirits And Aggression

The findings are 'imperative to addressing alcohol misuse'.

Anyone who’s cried on a night out will know all too well how alcohol wreaks havoc on emotions.

Now, a study of 30,000 people has found major links between types of alcohol and the emotions they create. For example, spirits were associated with feelings of aggression, while red wine and beer were linked to feeling relaxed.

Aside from being really interesting for consumers, researchers say the findings could also prove important in the way we address problem drinking in society.

“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,” they said.

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The study drew on anonymised responses to the world’s largest online survey of legal and illicit drug and alcohol use among adults called the Global Drug Survey (GDS). This included specific questions on alcohol consumption and the feelings associated with drinking beer, spirits, and red or white wine when at home or when out.

Emotions which people could choose from included: energised, relaxed, sexy, confident, tired, aggressive, ill, restless and tearful.

The final analysis included the responses of just under 30,000 18-to-34 year-olds from 21 countries who had drunk each of the specified types of alcohol within the past year.

Their answers showed that they attributed different emotions to different types of alcohol.

The findings

:: Spirits were the least likely to be associated with feeling relaxed (20%), they were more likely to draw out negative feelings than all the other types of alcohol and nearly a third (30%) of spirit drinkers associated the tipple with feelings of aggression.

:: Spirits were more likely to elicit some positive feelings than either beer or wine. Over half (around 59%) of respondents associated spirits with feelings of energy and confidence, and more than four out of 10 (42.5%) associated them with feeling sexy.

:: Red wine was the most likely to make people feel relaxed (just under 53% said it made them feel chilled out) followed by beer (50%). Just 2.5% of red wine drinkers said the tipple made them feel aggressive.

:: Younger people (aged 18-24) were the most likely to associate any type of alcohol with feelings of confidence, energy and sexiness when drinking away from home.

:: Women were significantly more likely than men to associate each feeling - except for aggression - with all types of alcohol.

:: Men were significantly more likely to associate feelings of aggression with all types of alcohol.

:: Heavy/dependent drinkers were six times more likely to associate feelings of aggression with all types of alcohol than low risk drinkers.

:: Heavy drinkers were more likely to select any drink that was associated for them with feelings of aggression and tearfulness when at home or when out.

Researchers said the findings, published in the journal BMJ Open, suggest that dependent drinkers may rely on alcohol to generate the positive emotions they associate with drinking, as they were five times more likely to feel energised than low risk drinkers.

They recognised that the study is observational so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, however they concluded that the body of research could prove useful in addressing alcohol misuse.

Around 3.3 million deaths and around one in 20 cases of ill health and injury around the globe are directly attributable to alcohol.

Co-author Professor Mark Bellis commented on the findings: “For centuries, the history of rum, gin, vodka and other spirits has been laced with violence. This global study suggests even today consuming spirits is more likely to result in feelings of aggression than other drinks.

“In the UK, a litre of off-licence spirits can easily be bought for £15 or less, making a double shot only 75p. Such prices can encourage consumption at levels harmful to the health of the drinker and through violence and injuries also represent a risk to the people around them.”

Eytan Alexander, founder of UK Addiction Treatment Centres (UKAT), told HuffPost UK: “Addiction is a complex disorder and whilst it isn’t always possible to identify the root cause, alcoholism is more prevalent to those who struggle to cope with underlying issues such as depression and anxiety, where the positive short term effects of alcohol are essentially used to self-medicate against that emotional or mental pain and discomfort.”

UKAT recently made a freedom of information (FOI) request to 152 Unitary and Upper Tier Councils, asking how much they spent on drug and alcohol treatment services every year since 2013.

The results showed that between 2013-17, £100million had been wiped from the spending allocation.

Alexander continued: “We must provide better education on the dangers of excessive drinking as well as help those who are dependent to recover but ultimately, cutting budgets by £100million annually is a huge threat to that.”

Dr James Nicholls, Director of Research and Policy Development at Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern, told HuffPost UK: “This study appears to confirm the widely held perception that different drinks produce different emotional responses.

“Importantly, it is based on survey responses – so it tells us about what respondents expect from drinks, rather than actual physiological effects.

“It has long been recognised that the effects of alcohol are partly learnt, and that they reflect what drinkers expect to feel. That spirits are often consumed in the expectation they will lead to aggression is an important finding: it suggests that there is particular work to be done around spirits to reduce the likelihood that their consumption will act as an excuse for violent behaviour.”

Dr John Larsen, Director of Evidence and Impact at Drinkaware, told HuffPost UK: “This study highlights the importance of understanding why people choose to drink certain alcoholic drinks and what effect they expect these drinks will have on them.

“These expectations and motivations for drinking will influence how people actually behave when they have been drinking, and may in some situations lead people to drink at levels likely to cause them harm.

“The UK Chief Medical Officers’ guideline for both men and women states that in order to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to be drinking more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

“If people drink above the low risk unit guidelines, in the short term they can put themselves at risk of accidents and injuries. In the long term, this drinking pattern can increase the risk of heart disease, liver disease, heart disease, stroke and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.”