Psychological Effects of Alcoholism: Short- and Long-Term Mental Consequences

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

alcoholism mental effects

Substance abuse, by itself, is a form of mental disorder. However, there are many that suffer from mental or psychological problems, while some experience aggravation of current psychological illness due to drinking spirits. In some cases, it is harder to pinpoint which came first, the mental disorder or the addiction.

According to research conducted by the Institute of Alcohol Studies in the USA, the physiological and psychological effects of alcohol in people suffering from mental health issues are two times greater than the general population. Furthermore, statistics prove that dependency on it increases the risk of developing mental or psychological disorders.

Alcoholism And Mental Health

The link between mental health and alcohol abuse should not come as a surprise. Dozens of studies can prove that alcohol holds influence on the brain by changing its chemistry. It is only a matter of time before one develops a mental illness from excessive drinking.

Regions of the brain are affected by drinking spirits. Initially, it triggers a sense of pleasure by stimulating the mesolimbic pathway also known as the reward pathway and releasing dopamine. This can eventually turn into an addiction.  The hippocampus in the mesolimbic system can trigger fear and anxiety due to lack of motivation. This substance impedes the continuous growth of new brain cells.

Brain mass is also reduced for a drunkard. The decrease in the number of neurons along the prefrontal cortex can lead to changes in emotions and personality.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Immediate psychological effects of drinking can be seen in people who suffer from acute alcoholism. Some of these are:


Minimal consumption can disrupt normal sleep quality and behavior. When drinking, it might be easier to fall asleep. However, once the body starts processing the alcohol, the deep slumber transforms into low quality sleep.

Loss of Control

The psychological effects of alcoholism begin once it hits the bloodstream. Excessive drinking mess up the ability to coordinate the mind and body, so it is easy to lose track of movements.

Impaired Judgment

The parts of the brain (basal ganglia, striatum) that take charge of impulses gets over-ridden or experiences delays. It gets difficult to recognize the positive and negative consequences of a certain action. This is in line with decision making.


Losing inhibitions is a psychological effect of alcohol, which is why a lot of people enjoy over-consuming this substance. However, this can also lead to delusions, confusions, and disorientation.

Mood swings

Alcohol also changes the endocrine system. This leads to constant mood swings and bouts of depression.

depressed woman drinking alcohol from a bottleLong-Term Mental Effects of Alcohol

In the long run, the physical and mental effects of alcohol are magnified to a greater extent. These are:


Excessive drinking may be an escape. However, once sobriety sets in, depression can develop. The need for drinking spirits surfaces and a cycle develops. Depression is an expected mental effect of alcohol. A third of people suffering from psychological depression are alcohol dependents. With depression and alcohol abuse, depression seems to come first. Research indicates that kids suffering from depression develop a penchant for drinking. Suicide by alcohol consumption is mostly driven by immense depression.

Personality Changes

Intoxication unleashes negative emotions. It also affects moral standards, not only because of mental alcohol effects but also how the substance can alter the body’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical that transmits mood signals to the brain. This particular mental issue is one of the many ways how alcoholism affects family and friends relationships.

Alcohol Use Disorder

People with AUD suffer from an incessant need to drink, even going as far as drinking alcohol in the workplace.

Psychological Diseases Commonly Associated With Drinking Spirits

Bipolar disorder

According to experts, when AUD starts, it can trigger bipolar disorder. The link between this mental illness and alcohol abuse is unclear, but similar traits can be observed in people suffering from these two issues. For instance, people with bipolar disorder seem to drink as a means to calm down manic episodes.


Prolonged drinking decreases brain activity. The mental effect of alcohol with trigger factors and stressors, anxiety will manifest as discontent, restlessness, and nightmares. The different effects of alcoholism can make an individual feel hopeless and incapable. This is why anxiety after drinking alcohol is very common.

Hepatic Encephalopathy

Chronic alcoholism damages liver function. Advanced stage of liver disorders can lead to changes in behavior and cognitive impairment. These alcohol psychological effects are attributed to Hepatic Encephalopathy. In this case, the alcohol effects on the body begin with the physical problem extending to a mental disorder.

anxious asian american man drinking beerHow To Cope With The Mental Effects of Alcoholism

The only way to get rid of the psychological or mental issues related to alcoholism is by addressing addiction head on. Overcoming this dependence is a difficult task to take on, but it is not impossible. A determined mindset should be exhibited. Evaluate if drinking is worth the cost – financially, emotionally, physically, and mentally. If not, list out some goals and provide objectives that can bring about the change. Lastly, do not be afraid to look for treatment options or find support groups.

The psychological effects of alcoholism set a pattern that can be hard to get out of; this is why it is important to seek help in specialized institutions, such as a rehabilitation center for alcoholics. This institution can help counter the effects of alcohol on mental health through various approaches and methods developed by experts.

For people who are not comfortable battling the psychological effects of alcohol abuse in a closed-off environment, there are options for outpatient alcohol rehab that may be a more suitable option.


Gregory Okhifun

Dr. Gregory Okhifun

Medical Reviewer

Dr. Okhifun is a passionate medical doctor, with over five years’ experience as a general practitioner. His passion for medical education led to his journey in medical writing. He has a wealth of experience writing for hospitals and medical centers, health organizations, telemedicine platforms, wellness organizations, medical tourism publications, addiction websites, and websites focused on nutrition and nutraceuticals.
He also serves as medical coordinator and content writer for Gerocare Solutions, for which he also volunteers as a health advisor/consultant for the elderly.
Dr. Okhifun enjoys traveling, meditation, and reading.

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  • Please take the time to look at this.
  • After about 5 years abusing alcohol and Rx meds as a way to “cope” with the effects of my bipolar 2 disorder, I finally bottomed out. “Rock bottom” of course, is subjective. For me, it meant divorce, job losses and homelessness.For some reason, I decided to just ask myself a couple of (seemingly) simple questions. 1. What GOOD thing ever happened to me as a result of my abuse? No answer. 2. Then why do it? Again; no answerLots of self discipline, NO excuses and keeping on eye on my mental health have allowed me to remain sober 6 years and counting. 2 simple questions, holding myself accountable, cutting myself no slack and accepting no BS or excuses is what finally got me straight.It CAN be done!For what it’s worth…