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Buzzed - Inside Out: The Different Highs of Alcohol

We’ve all heard the myths before - there are different drinks for different occasions. Getting ready to party? Break out the tequila! Staying in for a dark night of emotion and melancholy? Best sip on a glass of gin for the night. But to what extent are these myths true - do different drinks make you feel high differently? 

Surprisingly, most types of alcohols do not make you feel different. Most of the time, the main factors that alter your perceptions of the alcohol you are drinking are your mood, the people that are around you, and even the music. Various social situations can encourage you to feel different ways, but the active ingredient in every standard drink is still the same - and that’s ethanol.

Every time ethanol enters your bloodstream, your liver works to process it. However, your liver can only process so much alcohol at once, so the rest of the alcohol enters your brain, where moods are regulated. That’s why alcohol concentration in each drink is so important - excess amounts of alcohol that go to the brain create that feeling of being buzzed. 

Of course, the alcohol content in each drink is only one part of the puzzle. The nature of the drink also affects how the alcohol is delivered to the body. Beers, which are fizzy, can be difficult to gulp down back-to-back. On the other hand, liquors such as tequila are usually served in shot glasses to be knocked back quickly and repeatedly. 

These consumption habits can lead to “expectancies” about certain types of alcohol. Scientists have found that even children have an impression of how different drinks can lead to different “personalities”. Drinks such as beer and wine may appear to make people more sociable since they are usually consumed around a dinner table or while relaxing and chatting. Songs and popular media also help propagate these expectancies. Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” depicts a sad man “making love to his tonic and gin”, reinforcing the idea of gin being a melancholic beverage. 

Probably needs Billy Joel’s vocals to soothe over this sad image. (Courtesy: Harry Cutting)

There is, however, another possible reason for different drinks producing different personalities. Congeners are chemical impurities that are produced as byproducts of the fermentation and distillation process in the creation of the alcohol. They add to the taste, aroma, and colour of the beverage, and the type and amount of congeners vary from drink to drink. More premium products tend to contain fewer congeners due to a more meticulous distillation process. 

The problem with congeners? They are quite possibly the biggest cause of nasty hangovers. Darker liquors tend to have higher levels of congeners than their clear counterparts, so keep that in mind the next time you have a busy day following a night out. 

Another possible cause for different personalities could be different mixers. Drinks such as rum and vodka are usually mixed with caffeinated mixers such as Red Bull and sodas, while tequila tends to be drunk straight then chased with salt and lime. The effects of these additions can affect how we perceive these liquors. Maybe the reason why we feel buzzed when we’re taking in a rum and coke isn’t just simply because of the alcohol, but also because of the sugar within the cola.

Unfortunately, scientists are still trying to understand that the role congeners and mixers play in the relationship between alcohol, emotions, and behaviours. So, it may be quite a while before we actually confirm if different alcohols give us different personality types.

Considering the lack of evidence that these different types of alcohol will make you feel differently, perhaps it’s best that we break the stereotype. Feeling down? Skip the gin and head straight for some tequila. Out for a party? Break out the wine! The effects of alcohol only serves to amplify what we are already feeling. So if you’re out to have a good time, just drink what makes you happy! 

 

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