Why do people get drunk?

© Gary Houlder/CORBIS

Gin, vodka, whisky, wine, beer, cocktails – who hasn’t imbibed one or more of these during one of those smashing weekends with friends, partners, loud music and fried food? Call it as you may, these alcoholic drinks actually all refer to one liquid, that is, ethanol. Ethanol is a water-soluble chemical, which means it immediately enters the bloodstream to be carried quickly to all parts of the body (most notably the liver and the brain).

Alcohol affects the way we feel, the way we react, and our ability to do certain things (like dance, dance some more, and continue dancing for hours long past normal human endurance). Most of us will also have noticed that different people react to alcohol differently – some individuals become happy, while others become angry or depressed, before being spectacularly and incredibly sick everywhere. Personally, I become very giggly and flirty, and then I fall asleep (or lose consciousness… whatever). It all depends on the amount of alcohol you’ve consumed, not to mention what types of drinks you’ve mixed, and often even what your mood was to begin with.

When you drink alcohol, roughly 20% is absorbed straight from your stomach to your bloodstream. The other 80% is taken up by the small intestine. This explains why eating before you drink can slow down the effects of alcohol – if your tummy is full of food, it is harder for the alcohol to end up by the stomach walls, where it can be absorbed.

Alcohol impairs one’s judgement, changes one’s behaviour, loosens one’s inhibitions. In other words, it brings out that part of ourselves which we normally tend to hide. No wonder the Romans had that most popular and true of metaphors ‘In vino veritas’, which means ‘In wine there is truth’!