This Is How Alcohol Really Impacts Your Happiness

by Jorrie Varney
Originally Published: 
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The further I delve into motherhood, the more complicated things get. I never know what to expect from one day to the next, but my ultimate goal is to be the best mom I can be. Sometimes that means making hard decisions, upsetting my kids, or feeling terrible while simultaneously knowing I’m doing the right thing.

Exhaustion, stress, worry, and feeling overwhelmed are central themes in parenthood. Parents don’t have the option to call-in sick, and there are times we are merely passengers on this ride. We do our best to cope with the challenges kids throw at us, but even under the best circumstances there are peaks and valleys. Sometimes we’re left wondering how we can face it all again tomorrow.

It seems lately, more and more parents are turning to alcohol to wind down at the end of a challenging day, and while there is nothing wrong with a glass of wine or an ice cold beer, neither is doing a damn thing to improve our mood in the long run.

To understand alcohol’s impact on our mood, first you need to understand serotonin. For those not in the know, serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or for the sake of simplicity, a chemical that is found in our gut, platelets, and central nervous system. But where it’s found isn’t near as important as what it does, which is what I really want to talk about. Serotonin is a key player in our happiness, because it’s largely responsible for our mood. When serotonin levels dip, so does our mood. Low levels of serotonin can result in increased anxiety, irritability, anger, depression and more.

Now that you know about serotonin, let’s talk about parenthood and booze. As parents our mood can take a beating throughout the course of a day, because kids. We’ve all felt frustrated, irritated, exhausted, maybe even anxious or depressed.

When we sit down at the end of a long day with a drink in our hand, the ultimate goal is relaxation. Of course there are numerous ways to relax without alcohol, too. You could talk to your spouse, read a book, or binge your current Netflix obsession. But many parents turn to alcohol because it has a way of making those not-so-pleasant feelings from a challenging day fade away.

How does alcohol affect this? Well, substances like alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine give us a boost of serotonin, resulting initially in an elevated or euphoric mood. (I know I’m covering the obvious, but stay with me.) That boost, however, doesn’t last long, and once the initial euphoria fades, serotonin levels fall lower than they were originally were.

See where I’m going with this?

Yep, that’s right, alcohol actually worsens your mood in the long run. It can cause or worsen your anxiety, stress, irritability, and depression. Kind of the opposite effect of what you were going for, huh?

Now, here’s where things get even more dicey. When parents frequently use alcohol to unwind, their serotonin takes a hit on a regular basis, which means their levels are likely lower than they should be. And what happens when your serotonin levels are low? You feel irritable, anxious, meh, or worse. Depending on how much and how frequently you drink, you may be causing the very problem you are trying to alleviate.

Maybe this doesn’t really speak to you, and if not, that’s okay. But I assure you, it speaks to someone. Someone who is probably drinking more than they say they are, because shit is tough and it feels good to let loose after the kids go to bed. You may think alcohol helps, but daily drinking can rewire your brain before you even know what hit you. I’m not here to harp or judge or even encourage you one way or another. I just want you to have the information, because that irritability or lack of patience you think the kids are causing might be more than the challenges of parenthood.

If you think you may have an issue with addiction or substance abuse, talk with your doctor about treatment options, or contact the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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