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Social Drinking

Article #127 • Written by Jason Bellows

Ever come home from work and plain needed a good stiff drink? It seems a fairly common sentiment, but according to new research, the notion that alcohol can curb stress may be an axiom. Of course, alcohol itself might not be the notorious intoxicant that we think it is. It could all be a ruse created by advertising gone awry.

Stress is a powerful foe. It makes the body release catecholamine hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, and glucocorticoid hormones, cortisol and cortisone— I don’t know what they all mean, but they sound nasty. “Stress” is generally just a catch-all for such things as anxiety, antagonism, tiredness, frustration, distress, overwork, premenstrual tension, over-focusing, confusion, or mourning, and perhaps a strong drink could help with some of these stressors, but not likely. Where one would hope that a shot would help relieve over-focusing, for example, odds are that it will not. Instead of alcohol taking the edge off of stress, it turns out that stress will instead diminish the effects of alcohol.

But the effects of alcohol aren’t as profound as you think they are anyhow …

A great deal of alcohol’s effect is actually the placebo effect. Victoria University in New Zealand convinced nearly 150 students that they were drinking vodka and tonic with limes, and watched the students partake and shows signs on intoxication, however, they would be hard-pressed to actually get inebriated on what they were really drinking: tonic with limes—no vodka.

The ambiance was set with a bar and barkeepers, and allowed to imbibe for a while before being shown a set of slides depicting a crime scene. Despite being stone-sober, those who thought they’d been drinking recalled details with less accuracy than those who knew they were sober.

But it makes sense. Alcohol is the nexus of so much human behavior; often times it is a requirement of fun. There can be no doubt that drinking can have detrimental effects, however, it seems that much of the time it’s just an excuse for people to behave in ways that society says they cannot unless they are impaired. It’s the placebo effect at work.

So next time she tells you that she only kissed that girl because she was drunk, wonder if she was impaired because she was drinking, or drinking because she wanted to be impaired.

Article written by Jason Bellows, published on 28 February 2006. Jason is a contributing editor for

Edited by Alan Bellows.

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Posted 28 February 2006 at 08:46 pm

very interesting...

Secret Ninja
Posted 28 February 2006 at 09:27 pm

This might be the funniest thing I've read here

Posted 28 February 2006 at 10:17 pm

"Instead of alcohol taking the edge off of stress, it turns out that stress will instead diminish the effects of alcohol."

In other words a buzz-kill...

Just think, science has just confirmed a common phenomon amongst dunken, frat idiots everywhere.

Posted 01 March 2006 at 01:32 am

Well then, I guess that calls for another drink! This experiment has been done going as far back as the 60's and again with the same results. From what I can remember these experiments were always done using students in colleges or universities. Not so sure what that says about our education system if anything?

Posted 01 March 2006 at 02:17 am

"A great deal of alcohol’s effect is actually the placebo effect."

I would tend to agree with this; however, the experiment only shows that the placebo effect can simulate inebriation. It does nothing to say that the placebo effect is a major cause of inebriated behavior in people who have actually been drinking.

Posted 01 March 2006 at 02:49 am

Yeah, I'd be very suprised to find out that I vomited up a kebab on saturday night and then danced to David Bowie for 2 hours because I thought I should.

Posted 01 March 2006 at 04:51 am

I'd like to know if this works in reverse. Give someone an alcoholic drink, tell them it's not, and see if they maintain "sobriety" for longer. Of course, you'd need a large sample because alcohol affects people at different rates.

On a side-note: Straight-edge is the life for me. I'm 28 and never had an alcoholic drink... never been drunk. Awesome.

Posted 01 March 2006 at 10:44 am

Let's just show this to my ex then...

Posted 01 March 2006 at 11:33 am

[ I'd like to know if this works in reverse. Give someone an alcoholic drink, tell them it's not, and see if they maintain "sobriety" for longer. ]

I was thinking the exact thing Furnace. Would it not be considered unethical though? I guess it would be okay to do that since drug companies give their pharmaceuticals to human guinea pigs. I would really like to perform/read about that experiment.

lord of pastries
Posted 01 March 2006 at 09:41 pm

why not give grass to a cow and see if it gets sober or not?

that would be cool

Posted 01 March 2006 at 11:35 pm

I'd think as long as people were notified in advance there wouldn't be any sort of ethical issues. Just make sure to take their keys first.

Posted 02 March 2006 at 04:53 am

clayton said:" Would [giving alcohol to someone unaware of what they were drinking] not be considered unethical though?"

If you told the subjects they'd be undergoing several tests that involved alcohol consumption, it'd be fine. I think this test would be quite easy. Give Person A and B alcoholic drinks. In private, tell each one, "Neither drink contains any alcohol. We're testing to see if the IDEA of drinking alcohol contributes to intoxication and you're the control." Then, you have two people that believe they're drinking non-alcoholic drinks when they really are.

Posted 02 March 2006 at 01:49 pm

Furnace said: "On a side-note: Straight-edge is the life for me. I'm 28 and never had an alcoholic drink… never been drunk. Awesome."

I don't understand the "Awesome" at the end of your statement. Not that I have a problem with people choosing not to drink alcohol or anything but in my head it sounds closer to "I've never been to Phoenix. Awesome." than to "I've never been shot in the head. Awesome."

I'm 36 and have had a several beers, two margaritas and a few drams of Scotch whisky in the past week or so. I received a bottle of Highland Park 18 year old for my birthday last week. Awesome.

Posted 02 March 2006 at 03:21 pm

How do hangovers play into this scenario?

Posted 02 March 2006 at 07:12 pm

tel703 said: "How do hangovers play into this scenario?"

Well.. let's see, maybe this article gives those of us who don't want hangovers an excuse to "act" drunk, without having to drink. Yeah!


Somehow I'm left feeling dissatisfied. But I did manage to keep my stomach contents.

Posted 03 March 2006 at 05:04 am

skwigul said: "I don't understand the "Awesome" at the end of your statement. "

That comment is a little jab at society. Since "drink responsibly" is an oxymoron for most twenty-somethings, it's almost necessary to let people know, "I have no intention of getting drunk and I'm totally cool with that. I don't need a foreign substance in my body to make my social life worth while." Whenever I tell people I don't drink, the most common response is a question asking if I don't because there's something wrong with me medically. I just don't want to bring myself to any level of alcohol influence or intoxication. Ask anyone to "act drunk" and I guarantee their performance will be negative.

Posted 03 March 2006 at 07:29 am

I know that not wanting to drink is not a bad thing I just couldn't really imagine choosing to never drink and never get drunk. Like most drinkers I've had bad drunk experiences (waking up aged 17 in someone elses bed having pissed myself a definite one of these) but in my case these are far outweighed by the good. Running around the streets of Newcastle last year in my dressing gown at 6am making snow angels and snowfighting with my mates is something I wouldn't have done sober (would've seemed stupid) but is one of my fondest memories. I accept there will be bad nights but they have been few and far and besides I only drink socially and to excess.

Posted 03 March 2006 at 07:37 am

Furnace said: "I'd like to know if this works in reverse. Give someone an alcoholic drink, tell them it's not, and see if they maintain "sobriety" for longer."

Michael Jackson tried this with "Jesus Juice" in a small-scale, social anarchy experiment. The results were messy.

Completely Unrelated: I am a better dancer when I'm drunk. Not "I think I am...", which would make more sense, but actually better at dancing. My sober girlfriend confirmed this.

Posted 04 March 2006 at 05:50 pm

I'd say some of the more goofy things you do while you're drunk is highly influenced by the "social" part of drinking, but the phsyical buzz you get from the alcohol itself does impair your judgement.

Basically, alcohol lowers the social barriers we have, so we are more able to do things or say things that we might otherwise be too nervous to do while we're sober.

indra c
Posted 07 March 2006 at 05:02 am

"I have a drinking problem, two hands and only one mouth." - (original source unknown)

Posted 15 April 2006 at 09:16 am

[ I'd like to know if this works in reverse. Give someone an alcoholic drink, tell them it's not, and see if they maintain "sobriety" for longer. ]

Of course this is completely anecdotal, but the first time I got drunk, I had no idea I was drinking. I was at a party and did not plan to drink as 1) I was underage (yes, really) and 2) more to the point, I was going to be driving myself home. Anyway, the hostess was kind enough to have some lemonade on hand. I drank quite a bit of it—it seemed to make me horribly thirsty—and did not notice anything out of the ordinary, until, that is, I sat down on her bed—and missed. At that point, everyone there burst out laughing, because they all knew what I did not: the lemonade had been spiked with vodka.

Posted 24 April 2007 at 07:04 pm

I think that more is needed than just one study.

Beautiful Confusion
Posted 22 August 2007 at 08:09 am

Ya, I was at a New Year's party one year and I had gotten horribley drunk off ninety-nine bananas. When it came close to the time to leave my friend and I decided that we should eat something to try to sober up. The host of the party graciously offerred us a plate of fruit which we ate, it was very good, however even though I was trying to get sober I seemed to be getting more and more drunk. We found out later that we were eating the fruit that they had used to make jungle juice. So we were feeling the effects of alcohol despite thinking we were sobering up.
I agree that just the opposite would be the more interesting study. A room full of people that think that they aren't drinking when the really are. If nothing else, it would just be damn funny to watch.

Posted 23 August 2007 at 09:30 am

Alcohol isnt gonna make you do anything you can't imagine. It just lets you do more things you imagine before you think of why not to. That isnt neccessarily a bad thing unless you have lots of bad ideas heh.

Strait-edge is probably weird to people because you are essentially saying "no I dont want to try it." For instance someone not ever trying gum in their life. Really gum isnt really benificial or even too great for you, but lots of people do it and there are lots of options for each person. So if someone came along denying themselves gum ever, that's their choice, but they shouldn't be surprised when someone thinks they are weird. History has shown people are perfectly capable of handling themselves a little drunk, and even being able to drink just cause they like the taste of some of the drinks. I dont see the link to strait-edge and awesomeness.

Posted 25 November 2007 at 10:14 pm

Kao_Valin said: "I dont see the link to strait-edge and awesomeness."

At the very least he's bucking a lot of social pressure in a very visible way. Even if there weren't health benefits from not drinking, the exercise of self-control and denying peer pressure would be very valuable. I'm no straight-edger, but I have respect for guys like Furnace.

Posted 10 March 2008 at 04:30 pm

This makes sense. If stress reduced the effects of alcohol it is no wonder that some people we continuously "drown" their sorrows in booze. They just think they're washing them away.

The placebo effect also makes sense to me. I generally only drink decaf coffee. It is the "idea" of coffee that gives me the boost I need in the morning no matter if it is decaf or not.

Posted 06 June 2008 at 11:27 am

It sure is interesting and it's also good to know. I used to be paranoiac about alcohol, I used to think that one only needs a glass of wine to lead him or her to alcoholism. I had some alcohol issues in my family, my mother got addiction treatment because of alcohol and I learned to be cautions about this aspect in my life.

Posted 18 December 2008 at 12:31 am

The people drinking the tonic and lime must be new to drinking if they really couldn't tell the difference between drinking carbonated water w/ alcohol and drinking just carbonated water. This would explain them acting like they were really drunk when they really were not. I often notice that amatuer drinkers often overexagerate how drunk they are and I mean often. I really don't beleive that experienced drinkers, who aren't drama queens, would pretend to act drunk if they aren't. They would just drink more until they felt drunk. I also belive that most people who are drunk act out not because they think they have a valid excuse but because they lose some control over their actions. They should still be held accountable for all of their actions but I think that most people often times regret their drunken decisions. Most of the time being drunk is no excuse for their actions and when in their sober mind they would completely agree and understand this. If I understand ahead of time that the "I was so trashed when I did that" excuse would not hold enough weight for my actions then why would I think so when I was drunk or even when I sobered up enough to offer that excuse? I think that the affects of alcohol are very powerful and shouldn't be underestimated. I think that beginners sometimes want to act the way they feel they should act but not the seasoned veteran. I've seen too much evidence personally to the contrary.

Posted 21 December 2008 at 01:24 am

Bloody New Zealanders aye. It's not the drinking it's how we're drinking.

Posted 14 January 2009 at 09:01 am

i have a question. Would the placebo effect which tricked students into thinking they were drunk effect someone who has never been intoxicated b4?

Alucin Veritas
Posted 27 December 2009 at 11:58 pm

Drunkenness cannot be proven to be a trick of the mind until the test goes both ways. The placebo effect is still in place, but is different from true drunkenness.

Posted 29 August 2014 at 11:46 pm

Same way some peeps put a garden hose into their fuel tanks, they piss in their beer bottles or refil their flasks and forget what they done.. el presto
Not to mention duplicating drugs, money and even roast dinners out of old scrungey plastic bags...

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