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This Is Why We're Such A Mess When We're Drunk, According To Science

Turns out the drunk brain is a bitch.

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Hi. We're Alex and Kirsten. (Alex is the totally put-together person on the left, and Kirsten is the one on the right with zero regrets.)

As two social drinkers who have had our fair share of post-drinking regrets, we wanted to find some scientific ground (other than our own idiocy) to explain the mysteries behind why we can be our own worst enemies when we're drunk.

To do this, we decided to ask Kevin Strang, Ph.D., faculty associate in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical School, to explain the #science behind it all.

For starters, we need to explain a few things about what makes the drunk brain so different from the sober brain.


Strang told us to imagine the brain "like a Windows computer with a really powerful RAM processor and lots of memory." As the alcohol dose rises, he explained, the RAM goes down. "We have multiple, multiple circuits that are designed evolutionarily to do different things," he told us. When you're drunk, you stop using all those moving parts and you become "what we call myopic," said Strang.

So basically, we're like a shitty computer when we're drunk.

Here are the very important questions we needed answered...

1. Is there a reason why we drunk-text or act impulsively even if our sober selves would be mad at our drunk selves for doing it?

Paramount Pictures

This happens because you get myopic, Strang told us. That means "you can only focus on what is happening immediately in front of you." You can't process what will happen in the future or grasp the cause and effect of a situation. So when you drunk-text your ex, you're basically thinking, This will make me feel good right now — and your brain completely ignores how shitty it might make you feel the next day.

2. Why can't we help expressing all our ~feelings~ when we're drunk?


When you're drunk, the parts of your brain that would typically hold you back from expressing deeper feelings shut down, said Strang. If someone has been hesitant to tell someone how they feel, "when they’re drunk that true feeling is much more likely to come out," said Strang. This is because the parts of the brain that say, "No, I could get rejected" slow down.

3. Are you more likely to tell the truth or to lie when you're drunk?


Alcohol “makes you more likely to do EITHER one,” Strang said. “It makes you more likely to tell the truth, or to lie, depending on what you can focus on in that moment, depending on what your myopia is — what’s the top of your agenda." People do tell the truth more easily, he said, but it’s not really that simple.

So, you might tell your ex the truth (that you still have feelings for them) if you want them in that very moment. Your sober self might know to factor in the cause-and-effect of doing that, but your drunk self gives zero fuqs about it.

4. Is there a reason why we're total sugar mamas and buying everyone shots when we're drunk?

“It’s been shown very clearly that drunk people are much more generous than sober people,” Strang said. "When resistance comes down and people aren’t thinking with so many different parts of their brain, they might not be thinking about their wallet." So instead of thinking of their bank account, they're thinking only about how pumped everyone is going to be when that round of shots comes.

5. Why do we get the drunchies?

The drunchies are the result of your brain shutting down “higher functions,” said Strang. Your brain’s drunk operating system can run the easy programs, but not the more complex ones, essentially.

"So at the very base of your brain, you’ve got the basic centers that make you breathe and your heart beat — so basic thoughts,” Strang explained. “And a little higher there are appetite things you’re not in much control of. Like the fact that you love the taste of food and you’re thirsty.”

6. Why can we tolerate more pain when we're drunk?


Alcohol basically acts the same way that surgical anesthetics work, Strang told us. Booze makes it harder for your brain to receive pain signals from your nerves. “It physically blocks the signaling between neurons that make pain,” he explained.

7. Why do we wake up with mystery bruises after a night of drinking?


Alcohol relaxes certain kinds of muscles, said Strang, including the ones that control your capillaries — the blood flowing through your body. “You have more blood flow because the blood vessels are relaxed and dilated,” he explained. That means you have more blood in your tissues, which means you have more blood that can leak out under your skin (i.e., bruising) from minor damage. It's also worth mentioning that you are much more clumsy when you are drunk — a perfect bruise storm!

8. Why do we snore like monsters after a night of drinking?


According to Strang, all that snoring also comes from the effect of booze on muscles. Snoring, he explained, is a result of muscles in your throat flopping around when they are relaxed. When you drink, those muscles relax and make you more likely to snore.

9. Are we actually better at dancing/beer pong/darts/etc. when we're drunk?

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After a couple of drinks, “peripheral thoughts and worries go away.” So, a few drinks in, you're more likely to focus on the task at hand and may actually be better at completing it. So you might not just THINK you're a better dancer — you probably are!

However, if you take say, seven tequila shots, your motor skills are probably going to start declining. But according to Strang, “there’s some truth that with a low dose you DO become a little bit better.”

10. Does mixing different types of alcohol really make you sick?


Maybe, said Strang, but not because you are mixing different chemicals. It’s about the order. When you drink something with lower alcohol first, he explained, you get used to drinking and getting drunk at a certain rate. When you switch to something harder, you tend to remain used to the earlier rate of drinking and intoxication — and as a result you take in the booze faster. The flip side is if you do it in the opposite order, you are likely going to have a better time, he added.

So basically beer before liquor = never been sicker; liquor before beer = you're in the clear.

11. Are drunk goggles really a thing?

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Drunk goggles are absolutely a thing, Strang said. It all comes down to that alcohol myopia. “Let’s say you meet someone and [they] are not physically that cute but [they have] a laugh that you find adorable,” he said. “All it takes is that one part, that one aspect ... to make you perceive [them as] much more attractive than you would if you were sober, because you myopically focus on that one part."

12. Is there a reason why people have noticeable "drunk eyes"?


Have you ever seen a picture of yourself out and wondered why your barely open eyes give away your drunkenness so much? Outside of the possibility you might actually be half-asleep, this is actually the result of your brain’s increased reliance on the eyes. “It’s very hard to really impair your visual system,” Strang said. What does get impaired are other things, like your ears. “The eyes and the ears normally work together in telling you how you are moving in the world,” he said. “The wide-open stare can be a consequence of the brain just focusing on the eyes.”

13. Why does everyone forget how to use their inside voice when they're drunk?


It’s not that we feel the need to talk louder, Strang told us — it's that we literally can’t hear our own voice as well. “The neurons in your ear that are responding and carrying those signals to the brain literally start carrying fewer signals to the brain,” he explained. “Your voice is perceived as quieter to you, and you’ll make it as loud as you have to to make it sound to you the volume you expect it to be.”

14. Can you have a drunk moment of clarity or a drunk epiphany?

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You certainly can think you're having one. Your simplistic view of things when you're drunk makes your simplistic interpretation of things seem more valid, he said. "You see a perfect solution, but you don't see any of the downsides," he said, "because you're not able to access them. … I'm not saying these epiphanies are never brilliant, but more often than not, they are not brilliant."

Moral of the story: Aim to drink responsibly, and if you don't, throw your phone in the ocean before you text someone you shouldn't.


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