The Science of… Being Drunk and Disorderly

In moderation, getting a little tipsy can be quite a pleasant experience. Most people find a couple of drinks will give them more confidence and make them feel more carefree. Of course too much can lead to embarrassing and sometimes regrettable events. Printable examples include falling into shrubbery on the way home, stupidly offering to pay for the whole taxi or somehow managing to lose your shoes.
But what is actually happening inside your body to make you feel so drunk?

Contrary to common belief, although mixing your drinks might make you feel sick, it won’t make you any more drunk. How drunk you are depends entirely upon your blood alcohol concentration, and this is affected by the amount of units you drink, no matter where they’ve come from.

Firstly the alcohol must be absorbed from your gut into your bloodstream. This happens surprisingly quickly and the effects of the boozing will soon be felt. Fizzy drinks go to your head even quicker because the bubbles push the contents of your stomach through to your small intestine faster, and this is where most of the alcohol is absorbed.

Once inside your bloodstream alcohol starts to affect your central nervous system. Processing information from your senses begins to take longer and your reaction times are slowed. This is why getting behind the wheel even after only a couple of drinks is a complete no go.

A few rounds later, the alcohol begins to affect the outer layer of your brain – the frontal cortex – and all rational decision-making skills go out of the window. This is the point where dancing on the tables in Ocean becomes the best idea in the world. Extra points if you manage to humiliate yourself further by scrounging some kind of novelty headwear. Pirate bandanas and bunny ears seem to be favourites.

There are many parts of the brain affected by alcohol. The cerebellum is the bit that controls fine muscle movements. Touching your finger to the end of your nose can be pretty tricky whilst under the influence. Want proof? Then do try this at home, but be careful not to poke your eyes out.

The limbic system is the part of the brain linked to emotions and after a few drinks these can become pretty exaggerated. Whether you end up trying to pick a fight with the bouncer (not a good idea) or breaking down in floods of tears because someone spilt VK apple down your top, depends largely upon your personality and the mood of the night so far.

Alcohol is an anti-diuretic meaning that it stops you from producing the hormone which normally helps your body reabsorb excess water from your wee, keeping your bladder emptier for longer. Without it you’ll be queuing for the loos all night.

Consequently a night of drinking leaves you dehydrated and full of sugar. The body responds by increasing its insulin production to combat the high levels of glucose. Once you stop drinking, sugar continues to be broken down resulting in a serious craving for carbs to balance it out. This explains why at three in the morning anyone who has Dino’s pizza on their speed dial is automatically your best friend!

After the greasy treat it’s usually time for bed. It can be a little difficult to sleep though if the room feels like its spinning. This happened because the little blobs of jelly inside your ears, which control your sense of balance, are affected by the alcohol. Their shape is distorted causing messages to be sent to your brain telling it that you are moving. The effect is greatest when lying in bed in the dark because there are no signals from your eyes telling you not to be so stupid.

The following day your poor liver has to work overtime to break down the toxins in your body and it needs water to do so. Not one to give in easily, the liver simple borrows water from your other organs. This is what causes the headache, when your water-deprived brain feels like it’s shrunk and is knocking around inside your head. Dehydration also drains the potassium from your body, and this accounts for the insatiable thirst, muscle cramps and dizziness. The dreaded hangover is pretty horrible – but don’t worry it, will pass.

Until then, hopefully reminiscing over the breakfast table will provide enough amusing anecdotes to make the pounding head worthwhile.

Laura McGuinness

One Comment
  • james davey
    3 November 2008 at 15:13
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    i love this post, and your a genious!
    thanks allot for the info, this will discourage me from drinking for quite some time

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