Alcohol is believed to loosen up inhibitions. Is that correct?

Short answer: No

Long answer: Research has not been able to show that alcohol in itself loosens inhibitions. But there are many experiments showing how a person’s inhibitions loosen when they believe they have been drinking alcohol. “There is no evidence to indicate that alcohol weakens inhibitions and as a result increases impulsive behaviour” says Roland Gustafsson, professor of Psychology.

In 1998 the Psychology professor Roland Gustafsson summarised 176 different research reports, including blind tests. His conclusion is: “The unanimous conclusion is that the hypothesis of inhibition (…) has no support from empirical research. There is no evidence that alcohol would weaken inhibitions and thus increase an impulsive behaviour”. The sedation of the body can result in tunnel vision and less muscle control – enabling unwilling actions but this would have no connection to spontaneity or crazy actions. To feel free or courageous as a result of alcohol consumption is the result of an attitude and a learnt behaviour.

Does alcohol repress anxiety?

Short answer: No

Long answer: Research about alcohol and anxiety has produced contradictory results. In most cases alcohol had no effect at all on the feeling of anxiety, and just as often increased the feeling as repressing it.

A conclusion from 15 blind tests shows:
- Increased anxiety in four tests.
- No difference in seven tests.
- In four tests alcohol repressed anxiety and in three of them the alcohol was not disguised well enough to give a just result.

A study of a group of alcoholics showed that they experienced a strong feeling of anxiety while intoxicated. Once they had sobered up they claimed to have felt less anxiety. Only when they had been showed recordings of their own behaviour did they realise what kind of experience they had really had.Research has not been able to show that alcohol represses anxiety generally.

Does alcohol make people aggressive?

Short answer: No

Long answer:  No research has been able to show that alcohol makes people violent. However a few experiments have been able to show is that the aggressiveness increases if the participants believe they have been drinking alcohol.

Drunk people fight as long as the society accepts/blames the alcohol or has an expectation that says “when alcohol goes in, reason goes out”. The Swedish alcohol norm connects alcohol with violence. 8 out of 10 violent crimes are related to alcohol and takes place near a bar. Alcohol becomes an alibi for the perpetrator, the victim as well as the society.

The chemical affects the movability of the body. It can for instance create a tunnel vision which can lead to violence but it is not the alcohol that creates the violence. The image of alcohol often strengthens the gender roles and the macho image. Alcohol triggers violence, the learnt behaviour creates the violence. A person needs big amounts of alcohol during a substantial amount of time for the so called “reptile brain” to take over.  Violence in bars and pubs is mostly involving the “average drinker” and not necessarily the big consumers. Violence has to do with expectations and the feeling that “anything goes”.

Does alcohol make you happy?

Short answer: No

Long answer: Research has not been able to prove that alcohol puts people in a good mood. A sense of humour, crazy stories and spontaneity is strongly connected to alcohol use in the Swedish culture. The symbolic beer or wine bottle is said to produce a magical feeling of bell being. The bottle as a symbol has been given a substantial role in social settings and the activity around the bottle becomes a ritual. The alcohol norm has spread the belief that alcohol can make people friendly and funny.

The alcohol norm allows emotional outbursts like breaking into tears or laughing out loud. When someone crosses the line for what is acceptable to do while drunk it is blamed on the fact that the person is weak or that they have used the drug in the wrong way. There is a strong myth that anyone can control their alcohol use if they only want to. But, like in a lottery, the alcohol user can become an addict with alcohol kidnapping the reward system in the brain. Wanting to experience the good and happy part of the intoxication again the addict drinks more and more alcohol and but it only increases the sedation. On top of that it messes with the body's endorphins and confuses the brain.

The myths surrounding intoxication increases the belief that “anything goes”. One small excuse, leads to a big one.

Will alcohol make you more confident?

Short answer: No

Long answer:  Research has not been able to prove that alcohol increases confidence. Children learn at an early age that alcohol increases your emotions but that is a myth.

Confidence and high self esteem are attractive attributes in the teen age years. Group pressure based on the alcohol norm paints a picture of alcohol as a must for success in flirtation, making out or handling being at the centre of attention. Alcohol becomes strongly linked to courage. Alcohol is a short cut to being a grown up - to be safe, cool and confident. Alcohol cannot possible create that feeling chemically. Alcohol is a symbol with a strong influence over the perception of the effects of the drug. If you believe you are cool, then you are cool.

Does alcohol make you hornier?

Short answer: No

Long answer: Research has shown that alcohol makes us less sexually aroused. It simply becomes more difficult to have good sex. A common myth is that people become hornier from drinking alcohol. In fact alcohol sedates the body and makes it less alert, the sensitivity to touching decreases. Girls will not be as wet as they usually get and boys find it harder to keep their erection. A survey has shown that young Swedish girls and boys prefer to have sex after drinking alcohol free drinks.

In the experiments the participants are given drinks either with or without alcohol. Some believe they are served alcohol and others that they are served alcohol free drinks (see the Marlatt Method). The participants are shown sexually stimulating movies and their level of physical excitement is measured with the help of electrodes measuring for instance blood pressure and the diluting of blood vessels. The experiments have shown that the physical sexual ability is weakened for both men and women already after 2-3 glasses of wine (2 glasses of wine is equivalent to 1/3 bottle of vodka).

Many who believe they have been drinking alcohol feel more sexually aroused despite the physical evidence. Those of believe they have been drinking alcohol become more excited by “sexual taboos”. Participants have been shown rape scenes and their results have been compared. Those who believe they have been drinking alcohol would use their intoxication as an excuse in order to let feelings out that they normally wouldn’t own up to.

Does alcohol affect your reaction?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Research has shown that alcohol affects reaction negatively. It doesn’t matter if you believe you have been drinking or not, if there is alcohol in the blood, the reaction will be slower. Research has shown that people’s ability to drive decreases, whether they believed they had been drinking or not. (The tests were carried out in simulators.)

So in other word, to walk a line or drive a car is not recommended to drunken people.

Does alcohol affect the coordination?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Research has shown that alcohol affects coordination negatively. The result is the same even for people who believe they have been drinking alcohol. It becomes more difficult to walk straight or keep the balance.

Does alcohol affect the intellectual ability?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Research has shown that people who have been drinking alcohol cannot as easily solve intellectual problems, it doesn’t matter if they believe they had been drinking or not.

Does alcohol taste good?

Short answer: Yes and no.

Long answer: Nobody can answer objectively how something tastes. But most people can agree that when they first tasted beer, wine or spirits they did not like it. It is a taste you need to acquire. Nowadays there is alcohol that has been flavoured in a large variation of flavours. These flavours can give alcohol a very nice taste – but then it is the flavour and not the alcohol that is nice.

Alcohol in its pure form does not taste very much. Most people cannot feel the difference between beer, white wine and vodka tonic with or without alcohol. Ethanol does not have taste or smell. Pure alcohol “burns” and “stings” the throat. The mucous membranes become irritated and that is perceived as a strong taste but it is not a taste in the same way as sweet or sour. The burning sensation would not occur in a beverage with fewer than 20 percent.

If it is a weaker beverage it is only possible to sense the “alcohol flavour”, and that is not very strong. If alcohol is mixed with water a person would really have to make an effort and not be able to taste anything until a concentration of 3-4%. If the alcohol is mixed with other strong flavours like in wine, beer or drinks it needs to be 7%. It is therefore more or less impossible to taste if a beer has alcohol in it or not. That’s why beer is often used in blind tests.

Certain alcohol products, expensive wine for instance, can have gone through a complicated making process in comparison to for instance alcohol free wines and that can make the taste and quality very different and give the cheaper product a weaker taste.

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