Researchers say people with alcoholism can have trouble recognising emotions expressed by others as well as by themselves. The effects can linger for years. Alcoholism can strain relationships in a number of ways. Now new research has revealed another issue: deterioration in the physical ability to communicate.
It’s well-known that heavy drinking can lead to slurred speech in the short term. And previous research has found that chronic heavy drinking can have long-term impacts on the ability to perceive and differentiate between the emotions expressed by others.But a new study suggests that alcoholism can lead to a loss of the ability to express different emotions through tone of voice. Imagine telling someone, “See you tomorrow.” Said in one tone of voice, the phrase can sound like you’re looking forward to seeing them. Said in another, it can sound like you’re wishing you didn’t have to see them.
People with alcoholism, the new study finds, are less able to convey those messages through their tone of voice, potentially leading to confusion and harm in relationships. In the study, participants in Britain listened to recordings of sentences spoken by people recovering from alcoholism and by those in a control group.
The listeners had more trouble recognising the intended emotions in sentences spoken by those with alcoholism. They judged their voices as “less expressive,” “rougher,” and “more flat,” said Silke Paulmann, a cognitive sciences professor at the University of Essex who helped lead the new study.
The voices of people with alcoholism were also found to be less varied and quieter in pitch. “Our data clearly indicate that they can modulate pitch, but do so less effectively,” Paulmann told Healthline. Paulmann and her colleagues also determined that these effects likely last long after someone has quit drinking.