How Do Positive Moods Affect Drinking Behaviors?

Certain people who drink while in highly positive moods have an increased tendency to consume alcohol in potentially risky amounts, according to recent findings from a team of British researchers.

Modern research strongly indicates that any given individual’s current mood has a significant influence on how much alcohol he or she consumes during a drinking session. In a study scheduled for publication in August 2015 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the United Kingdom’s University of London looked at what happens to people who consume alcohol while in a good mood. These researchers concluded that some people who drink while in exceptionally good moods may have increased chances of consuming alcohol in substantial amounts, and therefore may have increased chances of developing alcohol-related problems.

Alcohol and Mood

All alcohol consumption occurs in the context of a drinker’s mood and mood-related state of mind. In some cases, alcohol consumers are in a predominantly “down” or negative mood; in other cases, consumers are in a predominantly “up” or positive mood. In addition, some people drink while in a mixed mood that features an “up” component and a “down” component, or while in a generally neutral mood that has no strong positive or negative features.

Regardless of the specific mood you’re in, mood-related factors may have a substantial conscious or unconscious influence on your drinking behavior. Some people experience a significant uptick in their alcohol consumption when affected by “positive urgency,” a term that psychologists use to describe recklessness motivated by a positive or up mental state. Conversely, some people experience an uptick in their alcohol consumption when affected by “negative urgency,” a term that describes the tendency to act recklessly while in a negative or down state of mind. In either case, the resulting rise in drinking levels may contribute to elevated short-term risks for binge drinking (consumption of enough alcohol to rapidly get drunk), as well as elevated long-term risks for heavy drinking and diagnosable alcohol use disorder (alcoholism and/or non-addicted alcohol abuse).

Alcohol Problems

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the American Psychiatric Association-sanctioned diagnosis used to identify cases of alcoholism, as well as cases of non-addicted alcohol abuse and cases of overlapping alcoholism and alcohol abuse. The American Psychiatric Association established this diagnosis in 2013 because any given person with alcohol problems may not fall solely into the alcoholism category or the alcohol abuse category. As a rule, people who regularly exceed commonly accepted guidelines for moderate alcohol intake have increased chances of meeting the criteria for AUD at some point in their lifetimes. Increased risks also fall upon any person who regularly participates in binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that roughly 7 percent of American adults qualify for an alcohol use disorder diagnosis.

Impact of Positive Moods

In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, the University of London researchers used a project involving 106 alcohol consumers to further explore the impact of a good mood and positive urgency on the odds that a person will increase his or her drinking levels and subsequently increase his or her degree of exposure to alcohol problems. All of the 106 study participants completed a test designed to identify their tendencies to act in reckless ways while in positive states of mind. After taking this test, one-third of the participants consumed alcohol after receiving stimulation intended to produce a moderate good mood. Another third of the participants consumed alcohol after receiving stimulation intended to produce a heightened good mood, while the remaining third of participants consumed alcohol after receiving stimulation designed to produce a neutral mood.

The researchers concluded that drinkers significantly affected by positive urgency tend to substantially increase their intake levels when in a highly positive mood. However, the recklessness associated with positive urgency did not lead to increased alcohol intake in drinkers in a moderately positive state of mind or in drinkers in a neutral state of mind.

The study’s authors note that the level of positive urgency in the participants did not reflect the odds of being in a positive mood before or after exposure to the study’s mood-changing central experiment. They believe that their findings point to reckless positive urgency as an important factor in the development of potentially problematic drinking behaviors, especially in alcohol consumers in an extremely good mood.

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