I remember this particular night when I was 18 and living in Melbourne. I had been adopted by a posse of rambunctious homosexual men who partied harder than my fresh-adult brain could fathom. We ventured to the gay bar along chapel street and from there, I drank with all the enthusiasm of a seasoned pro and none of the stamina. I danced to Britney Spears on the elevated platforms that, in hindsight, now seemed reserved for the drag queens. I managed to seek out the only straight male in the club and proceeded to suck his face off like someone dying of thirst. And my favourite part? Throwing up outside of Massive Weiner in the garbage bin while the police watched on in utter disdain.
Ah, youth. We’ve all been there. Right? Anybody? It’s only natural to wonder why we turn into radical, loose cannons when we drink. And luckily for us, Dr Kaushik Ram, an intelligent Neurologist with a PhD, has spilled the beans on what happens when we drink, and why it sends our mushy brains back into the animalistic stone ages.
The emotional capacity and movement of a two year old
Alcohol affects some of the brain’s most vital regions. Like the ones that keep us upright and functioning like an adult human. The cerebellum is one of the first regions that the alcohol affects. It’s the bulb looking thing that sits at the base of our brain, behind the brainstem, in case you were wondering. It’s tasked with making sure you don’t sit like a hunch back, helps with predictive learning and makes sure you can coordinate your limbs. “People with a damaged cerebellum have trouble maintaining balance and fine motor control. This is perhaps why the police test suspected drunk individuals to walk in a straight line,” explains Dr Ram.
The prefrontal cortex has been known to have its work cut out for it when you’re sitting there sinking piss like a champ. “It’s responsible for decision making, planning and rational thinking. Drinking can make us do things that we wouldn’t normally do such as approach a cute girl or get involved in risky behaviour.” That explains my distasteful behaviour then.
And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, the limbic system is also in the firing line. Involved with helping us express feeling and emotion, any degeneration of this alters the elements in our brain that make us tolerable. “Atrophy in limbic regions may result in changes to personality, loss of emotional control and dysfunction in social behaviour.” Unless you’re already intolerable. In that case, drink up, it might make you bearable (this is my advice, not to be mistaken for the good doctor’s.)
Thinking becomes rather hard
Have you ever played a card game drunk? Or tried to have a conversation with the bouncer to prove to him that you’re ‘not that wasted’? If your answer is yes, you’ll know how hard it is to gather your thoughts and assemble them in the right order. “Alcohol changes the way brain cells conduct signals. The neuronal loss is primarily in the frontal association areas of the brain which makes thinking harder and reaction times slower.” In other words, we become a bit useless.
We feel on top of the world, but proceed with caution
When we drink, the alcohol sets off the pleasure centres of the brain, releasing dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel absolutely stellar. This paints a lovely little image in my mind.. I don’t know about the rest of you. But, just when we thought we could be joyous without a cost, there is actually a downfall to all of this, if caution isn’t taken. Sorry to extinguish the good vibes.
“Each time someone drinks, the brain is bathed in endorphins (brain’s equivalent to opioids) which strengthens the behaviour and reinforces everything associated to it – going to the pub, socialising with friends, the behaviours that you come up with in the moment.” Alright, that doesn’t sound that bad. “Genetically, some people produce a lot of endorphins and therefore have a higher risk. For the high-risk group, they can control addictive behaviour for a short while and then they get overwhelmed and relapse.” And there it is. Addictive behaviour. Raise your hands if you feel attacked right now?
Your ability to remember things flies out the window
“Large quantities of alcohol consumed quickly, especially on an empty stomach can cause a loss of consciousness and for a certain interval, intoxicated individuals are unable to recall key life events, personal details or places.” Talking from experience, none of this is particularly ideal. “The brain becomes impaired and is unable to convert short-term memory to long-term memory. So, when the alcohol wears off, individuals may not remember what happened the night before.”
If we’re all being honest, sometimes it’s best we don’t remember what an embarrassment we were the night before. But nonetheless, I guess it explains my less than lady-like antics at the gay club on Chapel street. I’ll take that as a win.
Dr. Kaushik Ram works with forward thinking cooperations, government departments and leading education providers to unlock their natural abilities. He pioneers research into the nervous system and leads groundbreaking talks in Australia and globally.
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