By Katherine Lindermann
Hard alcohol elicits the strongest emotions, while wine and beer make people feel relaxed.
If a glass of wine puts you to sleep, but harder drinks out with friends pump you up, you’re not alone. Drawing on data from the Global Drug Survey, researchers analysed how 30,000 young adults from 21 countries responded to questions about how they feel after drinking alcohol. Respondents reported different reactions depending on the type of alcohol consumed. Study author Mark Bellis, a researcher at Public Health Wales, tells us more.
ResearchGate: What motivated you to study differences in emotional responses to different types of alcohol?
Mark Bellis: Achieving emotional and mood changes are major reasons why people consume alcohol, but for people to make informed choices about how much to drink, they need to understand the negative as well as the positive emotional changes that come with drinking. This study allowed us to get a fuller picture of the ups and downs people get from drinking, which drinks are linked with which emotions, and which groups are most at risk from some of the most concerning outcomes, such as feeling aggressive.
RG: What population did you study this in?
Bellis: The final study population was just under 30,000 people aged 18-34 year from 21 different countries. They were opportunistic sample, so are not intended to be fully representative of people in each country. Each individual included in the study had drunk all the types of alcohol studied (spirits, beer, and red and white wine) in the last 12 months, so could comment on how each had affected their emotions.
RG: What emotions were most strongly associated with which types of alcohol?
Bellis: Spirits were most strongly associated with feelings of being energised, confident, and sexy. But on the down side, they were also more strongly associated with feeling aggressive, ill, restless, and tearful. Red wine was most strongly associated with feeling relaxed, but also tired. Beer was also associated with feeling relaxed and confident, although it was also associated with high levels of feeling tired.
RG: Why do you think people associate different emotional responses with different types of alcohol?
Bellis: There are many factors that may link different drinks to different emotional outcomes. For instance, spirits are often consumed more quickly and have much higher concentrations of alcohol in them. This can result in a quicker stimulating effect as blood alcohol levels increase. People may also be drinking them deliberately to feel the drunken effect quickly, while other types of drink are more likely to be consumed slowly or with food.
It is worth also bearing in mind that there are compounds apart from alcohol in different drinks. Although these are part of the difference in taste between drinks, little consideration has been given to what other affects they may have on the drinker.
Another consideration is that a person’s expectations about the feelings they will have when drinking may play a part in what they experience—but this can also present a health risk. For instance, our results suggest that people who are heavier drinkers may be relying on certain drinks for energy and confidence, but heavier drinkers are also much more likely to report negative emotions as well.
RG: Were there differences between men and women?
Bellis: Women tended to report higher levels of all emotional responses to drinking, with the exception of feeling aggressive, which was higher in men.
RG: How do you hope your results will be used?
Bellis: There is plenty of promotional material that pushes the positive emotions people might look for from drinking, but it is important to understand the negative ones as well. If people are to make informed decisions about their drinking, they need to know the full picture of how alcohol affects moods and emotions. We hope this work will help fill a gap. Health professionals have often focused on links between alcohol and cancer, liver disease, and cardiovascular disease. The emotional side of drinking is another important aspect to consider when trying to tackle alcohol related harms.
Our findings suggest that people who are heavier drinkers more commonly report energy and confidence from drinking, but the negative emotions increase in this group as well. In the heaviest drinking group, over 60 percent reported feelings of aggression from drinking. We hope that the results can help understand and prevent dangerous spirals where some people see drinking as the solution to emotional problems that it is actually aggravating.
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