Actually, it’s not so much what it does to your body; it’s what it does to your brain. But let’s look at the body to begin with – and there’s two things that are happening here. Firstly, alcohol is toxic, it’s a poison and it is dehydrating the body and brain – that’s the main thing.
Secondly, alcohol is also a diuretic. Putting all that liquid into your body makes you want to urinate. So you lose body fluids quicker than you would do normally. Again, it basically dehydrates your body. This has two further consequences: the blood sugar drops and the electrolytes in the body, such as Sodium and Potassium, can become unbalanced. If unchecked, these can be life-threatening.
"One of the reasons we become sick when we drink alcohol is our brain has told us that we’ve got too much poison in the brain, and it’s asking us to please get rid of it."
One of the best ways to minimise the impact of being drunk is to alternate your drinking. Have a fruit juice or some water. If you do that, the impact on your body won’t be as bad as just drinking alcohol.
But alcohol is toxic, and if you drink enough of it it will start to shut your organs down. People do die of alcohol toxicity. One of the reasons we become sick when we drink alcohol is our brain has told us that we’ve got too much poison in the brain, and it’s asking us to please get rid of it.
Alcohol is generally a sedative. And so it should – should – sedate you. But most of us don’t experience alcohol, at a small level, as a sedative. The reason for that is because of a concept called expectancy. We expect to have a good time, and if you expect to have a good time with alcohol you will have a good time.
"If you feel good about taking alcohol, you’ll have a good experience. If you feel bad, you’re unlikely to have a good experience."
We have learned about alcohol through our own experiences, and also what we’ve been trained to expect through our family experiences, the media and other places – in short, most people have learned that alcohol is a pleasurable drug. This basically informs how we’re going to feel and how good we are likely to feel. The bottom line is that if you feel good about taking alcohol you’ll have a good experience. If you feel bad you’re unlikely to have a good experience.
Responses to alcohol such as feeling sad, happy, aggressive, sexually aroused and so on are to do with the psychological make-up of the individual in question. All alcohol will really do is exacerbate what somebody already does or feels. So if someone is habitually violent then alcohol will probably facilitate that. The phrase In Vino Veritas – in wine life – is often used. It’s not that, but it is something similar. Essentially what it does is allow someone to be more of their true conscious and sometimes subconscious selves. Drinking will accentuate what you are feeling at the time.
The other thing to take into consideration is what is happening around you. If you’re around people who might be considered risk averse they are likely to ensure the environment remains safe. Equally, if you’re with another group of peers who are more likely to get into trouble, they might be risk takers and thus the environment may become unsafe. So all those other issues have to be taken into consideration when considering how and why people react to alcohol in the way they do. Alcohol is just part of that bigger picture.