Why You’re Not Yourself When You Drink Alcohol

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“Know thyself” is a wise saying that humanity has contemplated for thousands of years. But it is difficult to know oneself with a mind clouded by alcohol. Drinking can change a person.

The more a person drinks, the more mental and behavioral changes they experience, such as:

  • loss of attention span,
  • inability to focus,
  • poor decision-making,
  • lack of good judgment,
  • diminished self-control and
  • compulsiveness.

Too many Americans are operating with a diminished mental capacity. According to stats published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 85% of the American adult population drinks alcohol, with about 25% admitting to binge drinking. Not only does the frequency of alcohol consumption (especially excessive consumption) tell us something about the addictive nature of alcohol, it suggests that many individuals tend to seek out alcohol for its mind-altering effects rather than for a genuine enjoyment of the beverage.

Alcohol’s Effect on Attention Span and Focus

Attention span and focus are aspects of normal mental function. Most people have an inherent ability to direct their attention to something and focus on it for as long and intently as they want or need to. But drinking alcohol messes with this ability. Drinking too much alcohol makes it difficult to focus and control attention span.

A study published in Nature Communications explores the intricacies of alcohol’s effect on attention. Attention span is the length of time that a person can concentrate on a particular activity. Attention span differs from person to person and is affected by a person’s interests or mood.

While it is safe to say that the intention to focus one’s attention comes from the individual, chemicals in the brain help with the direction of attention. Alcohol has a marked, detrimental effect on this process, making it more difficult for people under the influence of alcohol to direct their attention and focus.

Alcohol’s Effect on Decision Making and Judgement

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There is an inverse relationship between alcohol consumed and good judgment. The more alcohol one consumes, the poorer that person’s ability to judge becomes. Additionally, there is a direct relationship between alcohol consumption and inhibition and impulsivity. (These are also connected to judgment—more on this later.)

A study published in HHS Public Access found a direct relationship between alcohol consumption and decision making, particularly regarding binge drinking. The researchers surveyed 200 college students with varying drinking patterns and compared the results. Of the 200 surveyed participants, the ones who had the highest incidence rate of binge drinking were also the same respondents who reported making poorer choices (choices they later regretted).

Possibly because of alcohol’s strong effect on emotions, people who drink to excess are more likely to make judgment errors or choices that they would not ordinarily make while sober. Overconsumption of alcohol seems to act as a block between common sense and one’s decision-making faculty. The decision-making aspect of one’s cognitive function still works, but the drinking inhibits the common sense and judgment related to making decisions. In other words, over-drinking leads to bad decisions.

Alcohol’s Effect on Self Control and Compulsiveness

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Alcohol also has a direct effect on impulse control. Impulse control is an ingrained part of the human condition, a feature of the human psyche that has been around since behavioral decisions could mean the difference between life and death. And according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, alcohol dulls what some experts would call “Your internal alarm bell.”

Quoting Dr. Bruce D. Bartholow, associate professor of psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science, “When people make mistakes, activity in a part of the brain responsible for monitoring behavior increases, essentially sending an alarm signal to other parts of the brain indicating that something went wrong. Our study isn’t the first to show that alcohol reduces this alarm signal, but contrary to previous studies, our study shows that alcohol doesn’t reduce your awareness of mistakes—it reduces how much you care about making those mistakes. It is very common for people to respond more slowly following an error, as a way of trying to regain self-control. That’s what we saw in our placebo group. The alcohol group participants didn’t do this.”

Through a combination of its effects on one’s spiritual, emotional and behavioral well-being, alcohol consumption dulls one’s internal alarm bell, making it more likely for them to act impulsively, possibly even dangerously.

Maintain Focus, Judgement, and Self Control— Stay Away from Alcohol

It is alarming how widespread and common alcohol consumption is—a substance that offers zero health benefits yet is responsible for a long list of risks and side effects.

An intelligent choice for physical, emotional, spiritual, and behavioral health would be to abstain from alcohol. Anyone who strives to be themselves fully, wise in judgment and capable of self-control would be wise to leave alcohol out of the picture and engage in self-betterment activities.

It seems that anyone who has experienced firsthand the adverse mental and physical side effects of alcohol would swear off drinking. Some people can and do. But some can’t and need our help.

If Drinking Becomes Compulsory, Get Help

Some people who drink alcohol cannot stop because they are physically addicted. They will benefit from a comprehensive treatment program after receiving proper medical care. For some, alcohol is such a chronic aspect of life that their focus, judgment and self-control are lost. To the extent that alcohol is more important to a person than the infinite number of harms, risks and side effects, that person needs help. But don’t wait for them to ask for it.

Families and friends should guide compulsive drinkers to seek professional help as soon as possible.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LAD, RAS, MCAP, LCDC-I



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.