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The Science Behind The 5 Dumbest Things You Do When You’re Drunk

Drinking is a ton of fun, but it can also make you do a lot of really dumb sh*t.

Perhaps one of the more staple parts of a night out is the morning after, when you are forced to assess the damage you did last night: the things you said that you didn’t really mean, the weight gain from your mindless consumption of Bagel Bites, the desperate texts to your ex, the unattractive person you hooked up with, the loss of your wallet.

These things sound funny now, but the sad reality is that we’ve all done at least one of them, and it definitely wasn’t funny at the time.

Before you spiral into bouts of self-hatred, don’t blame yourself: Science says you really, truly, can blame it on the alcohol.

1. Say and do things you don’t mean

One time, a friend of mine and her boyfriend broke up when they were both drunk. They had never had a fight like that before, and they were in one of the more stable relationships I’d ever known.

But apparently, they didn’t mean it: The next day, they were back together.

Why did this happen? Why do people say and do things they simply don’t mean when they’re drunk? Is alcohol really a truth serum or not?

When you’re drunk, the part of your brain that becomes affected first is the frontal cortex, which is where most of your “higher functions” — your ability to do math, your understanding of social rules and your impulse control, for example — take place.

This means that the more alcohol you put inside your body, the dumber and less self-aware you’ll get throughout the night. Drunk you is essentially you without your impulse control, your logic and your intelligence.

All three of these things are crucial parts of your everyday identity. So, the debate over whether or not alcohol is a truth serum is based on the idea that that uninhibited you is the “real” you.

Well, it’s more complicated than that, because our higher functions are parts of who we are, too. The things that drive you to react to things in everyday life are, indeed, your impulse control, your logic and your intelligence.

We all don’t go around primitively reacting on impulse and to our deep-seeded emotions, except when we’re drunk.

Your higher functions are what prevent you from retreating to your primitive self. And because you are stripped of your higher functions when you’re drunk, the things you say will stem from your impulses and emotions, which mean they’re going to be more intense, more volatile and overly emotional.

It could seem like the lowering of the higher functions of your brain gives you courage to say things you wouldn’t normally say, like spilling your life story to strangers or confessing to a guy you like that you have feelings for him.

But even those things may not be completely true; instead, they could be an exaggeration, or an emotionally heightened version of the “truth.” They’re not necessarily exactly how the real you feels.

All in all, there’s no scientific evidence that proves what drunk you did is what real you wanted to do. I guess we can all breathe a sigh of relief.


2. Eat a lot of unhealthy foods

I eat like garbage every time I drink. It doesn’t matter how much I otherwise enjoy healthy foods or am trying to diet throughout the day. Give me a few beers, and I will stop at nothing to get my hands on pizza, Cup Noodles, Tostito chips or Kit-Kat bars.

My experience isn’t unique. A new study from The Netherlands reveals that alcohol intake actually increases how much food we eat and our desire to eat fatty foods.

The study randomly gave 24 healthy men either a vodka with orange juice or just orange juice. Then, they escorted the men to a lunch buffet with bread and a variety of toppings in four main categories: high-fat sweet (coconut slices and hazelnut spread), low-fat sweet (jam and apple syrup), high-fat savory (salami and paté) and low-fat savory (smoked beef and lean ham). Researchers measured how much and what kind of food each participant consumed.

The following day, the men who consumed vodka with orange juice came back and were given just orange juice. Then, they went back to the same buffet.

Researchers discovered that when the men drank the vodka with orange juice, they consumed between 11 and 19 percent more food than they did if they just had orange juice. Even more so, they consumed 24 percent more high-fat savory foods.

Not only did the alcohol consumption made the men want more food in general, but it made them want more fatty foods, which is definitely worse. You can thank that first beer you drank for the amount of mozzarella sticks that made their way into your body.


3. Drunk text your ex

You know the feeling: You wake up after a night of drinking and browse through your phone, only to see that you drunk texted your ex.

Ashamed, embarrassed and everything in between, you delete every message, thinking that if they’re deleted from your phone, they’re deleted from everyone’s — including your ex’s — memory.

What the hell made you do something like that?

Bruce Batholow, Ph.D, associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri found that alcohol silences the signal in our brains that warns us when we made a mistake.

In his study, 67 participants between the ages of 21 and 35 were given either alcohol, a placebo drink or no alcohol at all. Then, Batholow measured their brain activity while they completed a series of computer tasks that were designed to elicit errors.

Batholow and his team measured how the participants felt while completing the tasks, how well they completed the tasks, and their perceptions of how well they completed the tasks.

The “alarm signal” in the brain, the part of your brain that lights up when you’ve done something wrong, was significantly dulled for those who had consumed alcohol.

Interestingly, this occurred despite the fact that the alcohol group was just as aware as the placebo and non-alcohol groups that they made errors.

So, it looks like drunk you knew exactly what you were doing when you texted your ex. Drunk you just didn’t care.


4. Hook up with an unattractive person

There’s nothing quite like waking up the next morning from a night out and having your friends tell you that the guy you made out with does not resemble Ian Somerhalder as much as you thought he did last night. But there’s a scientific reason you really, really, thought he did.

Evolutionarily, human beings are more attracted to symmetrical faces. There are tons and tons and tons of research on this.

Humans have bilateral symmetry, which means we only have one line of symmetry down the vertical center of our bodies. This bilateral symmetry is more perfect in some than it is in others.

Researchers at Roehampton University in London found that the general visual impairments of alcohol affect our ability to detect symmetry — and, therefore, attractiveness — in the human faces.

In the study, over 100 participants were randomly selected to have an alcoholic beverage, a placebo beverage and a non-alcoholic beverage.

The participants were given a slideshow of 20 images of pairs of faces. Each pair of photos was of the same person, but one face had been altered to be symmetrical and one face had been altered to be asymmetrical.

Participants were then asked to determine which face in each pair was the most attractive face, and then to say if their chosen face was symmetrical or not.

All participants found the symmetrical faces more attractive, but the sober participants were better at determining if a face was symmetrical or asymmetrical.

Contrarily, the drunk participants had a harder time differentiating between the two. They often thought that an asymmetrical face was symmetrical. It appears as though drunk people can, quite literally, see unattractive people as attractive.

In other words, the next time you find out your ex hooked up with an ugly chick at a bar, take comfort in the fact that it doesn’t change anything: She’s still ugly.


5. Lose everything

Anything that damages the cerebellum in your brain, which controls your ability to move your muscles and to balance, leads to a loss of coordination.

Both voluntary muscle movements and fine muscle movements are affected when your cerebellum isn’t functioning properly.

For example, if your cerebellum were functioning, you’d be able to touch your finger to your nose smoothly with your eyes closed. If it were not functioning, this normally easy motion would be shaky and difficult to complete.

So, as alcohol affects your cerebellum, basic movements become jerky and uncoordinated. You stumble while trying to engage larger muscles (such as your legs), and you fumble while trying to engage smaller ones (such as your fingers).

It’s therefore likely that when you reached into your purse or your back pocket to get out your wallet or phone, your hands couldn’t help but scramble around with whatever else was in there, and you likely dropped something.

And, since alcohol affects your ability to form memories, you likely then forgot you even went into your purse or back pocket, which means you definitely forgot you may have dropped something.

It was that chain reaction of clumsiness and forgetfulness that made you lose your new iPhone 6. So sad.

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Alexia LaFata

Digital Editor

Alexia LaFata is a Deputy Editor. She's a proud New Jersey native and Boston College graduate. When she's not writing, she's watching documentaries, practicing her Cher impression, or eating pasta. Stalk her at alexialafata.com.
Alexia LaFata is a Deputy Editor. She's a proud New Jersey native and Boston College graduate. When she's not writing, she's watching documentaries, practicing her Cher impression, or eating pasta. Stalk her at alexialafata.com.

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