This is useful information even for those of us who don’t drink to the point of picking fights or doing anything preceded by the command, “Watch this!” (As in the old Texas joke: What are an Aggie’s last words?)
Drinking does lower inhibitions, which can be a good thing, in moderation. In fact, the researchers found that participants who were given alcohol reported themselves to be feeling “less negative” than the stone-cold sober control group.
Certainly a little alcoholic lubricant is just the thing some of us need to cruise through social situations. With the right amount of alcohol, I am pleasantly outgoing. I relax and loosen up.
But a drink or two over my line and I am guaranteed intense middle-of-the-night regrets.
I’m unlikely to do anything genuinely risky or even extreme. I’m not one to risk life or limb, but I do have a horror of looking foolish, and my default emotion is shame. My tolerance is low for my own stupid behavior, though it might barely register on the dumb-ass meter for other people. Usually my worst behavior leads to little more than middle-of-the-night regrets. Which, frankly, are bad enough.
When does fun-drunk because regretful-drunk? If I were stopped after my second glass of wine (I’m a cheap drunk), and asked “Do you think being boisterous is a good idea?” Or “Should you be laughing that loudly?” Or “Is ‘know-it-all’ really the position you want to take in this discussion?” would I stop drinking and sober up?
This research suggests that I probably know I’m being obnoxious, but don’t care. My internal alarm is on snooze. And, said lead author Bruce Bartholow:
“In tasks like the one we used, although we encourage people to try to respond as quickly as possible, 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.”
So at a certain point, even recognizing an obnoxious blurt might not be enough to prevent the next one. You’re already running downhill and gaining speed.
If I make it through refill number three, the mistake I’m most likely to shrug off is refill number four. And that’s when fun-drunk turns sour. At that moment, I won’t care. But I can count on an anxious night ahead.
Photo by Angel Fragallo.