How does alcohol affect your mood? It may depend on what you drink.
Researchers from the Public Health Wales National Health System Trust and King's College London — both in the United Kingdom — have turned to the general public to try to understand what different types of alcohol do to our emotions.
If you feel relaxed when you have a beer with your friends after work, but a glass of whiskey on the rocks makes you want to pick a fight with your loud neighbor, then you're not alone.
Prof. Mark Bellis and colleagues found that certain drinks are likely to be associated with particular emotional states more than others. Spirits, they say, are more often associated with negative moods, while wines and beer more often elicit a positive response.
"For centuries," says Prof. Bellis, "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."
The researchers' findings were published yesterday in BMJ Open.
Spirits boost energy, but also aggression
In their study, Prof. Bellis and team used anonymized data from the Global Drug Survey, which is the largest online survey addressing alcohol consumption and illicit drug use among adults worldwide.
The survey asks, among other questions, how the respondents feel when drinking different types of alcoholic beverage — beer, red and white wine, and spirits — in different settings, such as at home or in a social context.
Respondents chose from a range of emotional states, including: feeling more energized, relaxed, sexy, or confident; or feeling tired, ill, restless, more aggressive, or tearful.
The researchers analyzed the responses of 29,836 study participants between 18 and 34 years of age, from 21 countries. These respondents reported drinking all the types of alcohol named in the survey over the past 12 months, and they gave the most complete responses to the questionnaire.
Consistently, the participants reported different emotional responses to different alcoholic beverages.
Red wine and beer were reported to be the most relaxing drinks, with 52.8 percent of respondents saying that the former boosted relaxation, and almost 50 percent indicating that beer helped them to wind down.
Spirits were reported as the least conducive to a relaxed state, as only 20 percent of respondents said that distilled drinks helped them to relieve tension.
Almost 30 percent of survey respondents who drank spirits said that they felt more aggressive when they chose this type of alcohol. By contrast, only 2.5 percent of red wine drinkers blamed this beverage for a rise in feelings of aggression.
At the same time, however, more than half of the respondents reported that spirits boosted their confidence and energy levels, and 42.4 percent said that these strong drinks made them feel sexier.
Age, gender, and drinking patterns matter
It is also important to note that the effects were influenced by the respondents' educational level, which country they came from, and how old they were.
The researchers noted that participants in the youngest age group — that is, from 18 to 24 years old — most consistently indicated that any alcoholic drink, when consumed in a social setting, was likely to boost their confidence and energy levels, and make them feel more attractive.
Women were also more likely to report that any type of alcohol could elicit any of the feelings in the survey, bar aggression. Conversely, men tended to indicate more often that any type of alcohol boosted aggression.
Finally, heavy drinkers or those who reported alcohol dependence were six time more likely than casual drinkers to say that any alcoholic beverage made them feel more aggressive.
Aggression and tearfulness were also often reported by heavy drinkers regardless of whether they drank at home, on their own, or out with friends.
Interestingly, excessive alcohol consumption was also tied with an energy boost; respondents who tended to drink a lot were five times more likely than casual drinkers to say that they felt invigorated by alcohol.
Excessive drinking tied to expectations?
The team explains that these results suggest that people who drink excessively may feel motivated to do so because they expect that alcohol will boost positive emotions.
However, Prof. Bellis and colleagues warn that the relationship between what kind of alcohol we drink and how we end up feeling may not be causal, as this was only an observational study.
They also explain that our emotional state after a stiff drink may be significantly influenced by the context of consumption, how the drink is advertised, and how much alcohol it contains.
Nevertheless, they conclude their paper by arguing that it is important to understand how people believe alcohol makes them feel in order to be able to implement more effective policies for the prevention of excessive consumption. They say:
"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."