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Alcohol and Mental Health

Why Does Alcohol Make Me Moody the Next Day?

July 20, 2023
9 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 20, 2023
9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 20, 2023
9 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 20, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 20, 2023
9 min read

Many of us believe that being self-critical and hard on ourselves is a good thing. We mistakenly think that if we show ourselves kindness during painful or challenging times, we’re demonstrating weakness. However, research is proving the opposite. Scientific data is showing that self-criticism makes us weaker in the face of failure, more emotional, and less likely to assimilate lessons from our failures.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, is proving to be incredibly beneficial for our well-being. In fact, people who practice more self-compassion tend to have greater happiness, life satisfaction and motivation; better relationships and physical health; and less anxiety and depression.

Why does alcohol, so often associated with fun and relaxation, lead to such a dramatic shift in our mood? Why does alcohol make us sad?

Alcohol and the Brain: The Role of Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters, the brain's chemical messengers, are crucial in regulating our mood. Alcohol interacts with these neurotransmitters, specifically with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, calming the brain and leading to feelings of relaxation. Glutamate, in contrast, is an excitatory neurotransmitter, stimulating brain activity.

Alcohol consumption enhances the inhibitory effects of GABA and reduces the excitatory impact of glutamate. This chemical interplay results in the initial feelings of relaxation and euphoria that we often associate with drinking. However, the story doesn't end here. The morning after drinking, as the alcohol starts to leave our system, there’s a disruption in this delicate balance of neurotransmitters. The inhibition of GABA and excitation of glutamate is suddenly lifted, leading to an overactive glutamate system and an underactive GABA system. This abrupt shift can trigger feelings of restlessness, anxiety, and irritability, contributing to our post-alcohol mood swings the next day.

Alcohol and Mood Changes

The Sleep Deception: Alcohol's Impact on Our Rest Cycle

Sleep and mood are closely intertwined. A good night's sleep can leave us feeling refreshed and upbeat, while a night of poor sleep can make us irritable and moody. Alcohol has a profound impact on our sleep cycle, primarily on the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stage, which is crucial for restorative sleep. Alcohol can trick us into thinking we're getting good sleep because it often helps us fall asleep faster. However, the quality of sleep we get when we've been drinking is usually poor.

While alcohol can initially act as a sedative and induce sleep, it later disrupts the sleep cycle, particularly REM sleep. As we sleep, alcohol starts to wear off, leading to restless sleep and more awakenings in the second half of the night. This disruption can lead to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and lower mood and mood swings the following day.

The Hydration Equation: Alcohol's Draining Effect

Alcohol has diuretic properties, which means it leads to increased urination. This increased urination can result in substantial fluid loss, leading to dehydration. Dehydration doesn't only result in physical symptoms like headache, dizziness, or dry mouth, but it also affects our mood. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can increase anxiety and irritability. Moreover, severe dehydration can significantly impact cognitive function and mood, adding to our overall sense of unease and moodiness.

The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster: Alcohol's Impact on Glucose Levels

Let's now delve into another significant aspect of alcohol's impact on our bodies: our blood sugar levels. Alcohol can cause our blood sugar levels to rise and then abruptly fall. This rapid fluctuation can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and mood swings. When our blood sugar levels drop, our bodies release stress hormones, which can contribute to anxiety and irritability.

For those of us who consume alcohol, understanding the role of blood sugar in our post-drink mood swings can be crucial. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is not just important for our physical well-being, but it's also a key player in maintaining our emotional health. So if you’re feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression after drinking, start with a healthy meal and a big glass of water.

Avoiding Alcohol-Induced Mood Swings

So how can we enjoy our drink and still dodge the emotional minefield that alcohol can sometimes lay out for us? Here are some tips:

  • Stay hydrated. Prioritizing hydration can help balance alcohol’s dehydrating effects, thereby helping to maintain mood stability.
  • Embrace moderation. The more we drink, the more likely we are to experience the negative emotional aftereffects. It's recommended to stick to moderation — up to 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men.
  • Don't drink on an empty stomach. Consuming food before drinking can slow the absorption of alcohol, helping prevent rapid blood sugar fluctuations and their corresponding mood swings.
  • Invest in good sleep. Developing a regular, healthy sleep routine can contribute to better mood regulation. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and try to keep your bedtime and wake-up time consistent, even on weekends.
  • Space out your drinks. Sipping your drink slowly and spacing out your drinks can help your body metabolize alcohol more effectively, reducing its negative impacts.

While alcohol might provide temporary relaxation and happiness, its aftermath can often take us on an unwanted emotional rollercoaster. If you find yourself crying after drinking, know that you’re not alone! By understanding the physiological impacts of alcohol and adopting mindful drinking practices, we can enjoy our favorite beverages without compromising our emotional well-being. As we raise a glass, let it not only be a toast to good times but also to emotional stability and resilience.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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