Different Alcohol Types Trigger Specific Emotions

Pauline Anderson

November 23, 2017

Vodka, gin, whiskey, and other spirits are more likely to increase aggression compared with other alcoholic beverages. In addition, other alcohol types elicit other specific emotions, a large international survey shows.

The new results highlight "the complex relationships" between alcoholic beverage choices and emotions, note the authors, led by Kathryn Ashton, a public health researcher, policy, research, and international development, Public Health Wales NHS Trust, Cardiff, UK.

Understanding the relationship between alcohol types and the emotions and behaviors these drinks elicit may improve public health messages and prevent escalation of drinking to dependent levels, they said.

The study was published online November 21 in BMJ Open.

Spirits and Aggression

Researchers accessed the Global Drug Survey (GDS), the world's largest such survey that uses encrypted information and is delivered in 11 languages. The annual self-reported online survey probes alcohol and drug use among adults over the age of 16 years.

The current study, which included data on 29,836 respondents aged 18–34 years from the 2016 GDS, centered on alcohol use. Respondents were asked to report the type of alcoholic drinks they consume and which emotions they associated with each alcohol type.

Both positive emotions (energized, relaxed, sexy, and confident) and negative emotions (tired, aggressive ill, restless, and tearful) were included. All respondents in the sample had drank all alcohol types included in the analysis (spirits, red wine, white wine, beer) in the previous 12 months.

Researchers also gathered information on the types of alcohol that were most likely to be consumed at home. They calculated consumption levels using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT).

The survey results showed that emotions differed substantially between demographic groups and that these relationships were maintained after accounting for confounding sociodemographics and level of alcohol dependency.

The analysis showed that spirits were more likely than beer, red wine, or white wine to elicit most of the positive emotions. Over half of respondents associated drinking spirits with energy (58.4%) and confidence (59.1%), and 42.4% reported that drinking spirits made them feel sexy.

But spirits were also more likely than any other drink type to draw out certain negative feelings. For example, 47.8% of respondents associated spirits with feeling ill.

Importantly, almost a third of respondents (29.8%) reported a relationship between drinking spirits and aggression, which was significantly higher than other drink categories (< .001).

Respondents were most likely to report feeling relaxed (52.8%) when drinking red wine, although almost half of them also reported feeling relaxed when drinking beer. Red wine was the most likely of any alcohol type to make individuals feel tired (60.1%).

Dependent drinkers (AUDIT ≥ 20) were almost five times more likely to feel energized compared with low-risk drinkers (AUDIT 0–7) (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 4.73; 95% confidence interval [CI], 4.07 - 5.50; P < .001).

However, heavier drinkers also reported negative emotions more often. They were over six times more likely to report feelings of aggression (AOR, 6.41; 95% CI, 5.79 - 7.09; P < .001).

Drinking more alcohol in a session may increase the impact on emotions, noted the authors.

Heavier drinkers were less likely to report feelings of tiredness. This, said the authors, is "consistent with existing evidence on heavy drinking and alcohol dependence, including the development of tolerance to the sedative effects of alcohol."

The results also showed that individuals who are dependent on alcohol more frequently associated emotions with alcohol whether they were drinking at home or when out.

Differences by Country

The findings suggest that individuals inadvertently select drinks known to elicit negative emotions because they crave the positive emotions that go with them, and support other research showing that those dependent on alcohol use it as a coping mechanism rather than drinking for pleasure, said the authors.

"This highlights a potential emotional gap which individuals may be looking to fill by drinking alcohol. This gap can be a concern, particularly with exploitation by the alcohol industry with advertising focused on pushing the positive emotions associated with alcohol use without outlining the negatives which go alongside them."

A greater proportion of those with lower educational attainment reported both positive and negative emotions when drinking alcohol compared with those who had completed high school.

Women more frequently reported all emotions apart from aggression. Younger respondents (age 18–24 years) more frequently reported all emotions, with the exception of aggression and tiredness.

As for the different countries, the highest association with feeling energized, relaxed, and sexy was in the South American sample of Colombia and Brazil. For negative emotions, the country sample with the strongest association with aggression was Norway, and for feeling restless, France.

However, the authors cautioned that the sample sizes for these categories were small. The survey, they said, "should not be considered representative of any country or region."

As different alcohol types may be perceived or used in different ways, harm prevention policies may benefit from treating types of drinks differently. This is especially true when addressing spirits and their significant association with aggression, said the authors.

As the sample was self-selected, there may be an over-representation of individuals who are more likely to use alcohol. The sample may also be biased towards those with access to the internet.

The authors also pointed out that the emotions associated with alcohol may have been affected by factors such as mood prior to drinking, and that the amount and rate of alcohol consumption were unknown. As well, respondents may have undertaken other activities while consuming specific drinks, for example dancing, that may have affected emotions.

Further research is needed examining the reasons behind specific drink choices in different settings, mood prior to drinking, alcohol volume, and impact of alcohol advertising on the perceived mood of drinkers, the authors conclude.

The authors have reported no relevant financial relationships.

BMJ Open. Published online November 21, 2017. Full article

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