Alcohol, Mood Swings, and Mental Health

by Garreth Myers

Almost all people experience mood swings, with or without the influence of stimuli. The triggers for these mood changes could be internal or external, and can vary in duration and intensity. Alcohol is known to have a significant effect on mood. It may either latch on to a mood and cause it to persist, or it may result in a change of mood. It can also aggravate existing conditions such as manic depression or bipolar disorder.

The initial effect of alcohol consumption is a sensation of euphoria. The individual may experience a rise in confidence level as well. However, certain changes in personality such as mood swings can also occur. Alcohol works as a depressant in the central nervous system. This means that it depresses the brain mechanisms that control inhibition. This allows for a freeing up of the stimuli that trigger euphoria and depression. To describe it simpler terms, alcohol cause the brain to stop applying the brakes that it normally does. As a result, the brain is free to swing between extremes. Research has also shown that the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine are involved in alcohol induced mood swings. These neurotransmitters are actively involved in the transmission of the pleasure and reward signals through different regions of the brain. The manner in which they work in the case of mood changes caused by alcohol is not known for certain. They do, however, play a major role in this. Serotonin levels affect mood due to the effect it has on the transmission of reward signals in the brain. Fluctuations in serotonin levels can result in chemical imbalances which lead to altered behavior and mood swings. These negative effects of serotonin are aggravated when alcohol is consumed.

Alcohol also leads to an increase in the production of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released in the brain in the form of an amino acid. It has an effect on movement, perception and emotion. Dopamine is necessary for proper functioning of the nervous system. When the nerve cells that produce dopamine are damaged or destroyed, conditions such as Parkinson's disease can occur. The brain functions in a systematic manner and the balance between the various processes is very delicate. Consumption of alcohol upsets this balance and leads to unpredictable behavior. Other substances that cause similar effects on the brain and result in altered behavior and mood swings include coffee, tobacco and drugs like methamphetamines.

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