If you drink, you probably think alcohol makes you feel better – at least until your 2am emotional breakdown. But before that embarrassing cry-athon, it’s an enjoyable experience. But does alcohol really make us happier? And if so, how much?
Those were the questions behind a recent study, entitled “Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach,” from two researchers in the UK. Realizing that “there are surprisingly few discussions of the link between wellbeing and alcohol, and few empirical studies to underpin them,” the men behind the study began analyzing data in the iPhone app Mappiness to see if they could quantify alcohol’s happiness boost.
The app prompts users (who use the app voluntarily) to rank their happiness on a scale of 1 to 100 at random intervals throughout the day, and also asks them what they’re doing at that given moment. Using around 2 million responses from over 31,000 people recorded between 2010 and 2013, the researchers began to paint a picture of people’s self-reported happiness when they’re drinking compared to when they’re not.
The result: “Drinking alcohol is associated with considerably greater happiness at that moment — 10.79 points on a 0-100 scale,” the study reports, according to The Washington Post. One important caveat: People tend to be doing more fun things when they are drinking – things like hanging with friend or not working – but even when controlling for these activities, alcohol still increased people’s reported happiness four points. And this was regardless of a number of other factors. “There were only relatively small differences in the happiness-inducing effect of alcohol between men and women, or when looking at different times of day, on weekdays vs. weekends, or with different people,” the researchers wrote.
Interestingly, however, drinking only seemed to increase happiness in the moment. In the long-term, alcohol had little effect. “In conclusion, while iPhone users are happier at the moment of drinking, there are only small overspills to other moments, and among the wider population, changing drinking levels across several years are not associated with changing life satisfaction,” the report says, before importantly adding, “Furthermore, drinking problems are associated with lower life satisfaction.”
The big takeaway seems to be something many people have known all along: If you need a quick boost, a little tipple is an easy way to get there. But alcohol certainly isn’t a long-term problem solver. If it was, yours truly wouldn’t have a single issue.