When is Drinking Good for the Brain?

Gamal Hennessy

I’m a strong advocate of responsible indulgence when it comes to things like drinking. I say drinking is great, getting drunk isn’t. Most of my arguments in favor of moderation are tied to the social and health benefits of not passing out in the gutter or becoming a raging alcoholic. Now I have another concept to support my theory. Tests have proven that drinking some elevates your mood but drinking a lot doesn’t make you feel a lot better.

A professor at McGill University and Douglas Mental Health University Institute named Christina Gianoulakis, performed an experiment to determine the connection between liquor and beta-endorphins the chemical in your brain that makes you feel good. She found that low to moderate drinking releases beta endorphins. That’s the buzz we get when we drink. That’s what we’re looking for. She also found that higher levels of drinking didn’t produce higher levels of the chemical. At a certain point, the positive chemical effects level off. More liquor doesn’t produce more endorphins. Professor Gianoulakis concluded that if you didn’t have a buzz after two drinks you weren’t going to get one. You’re much more likely to just get drunk.

I know this study was done on rats in a lab instead of people. That means it doesn’t take into account the social influences on drinking like stress, peer pressure or the financial incentives to drink more. It also doesn’t take physical influences that affect us like the desire for a drink, the increased tolerance that an experienced drinker could have or the decreased self control to stop drinking after you have started to drink. But the neurological relationship between moderation and excess mirrors the social and physical relationship. We can see proof of it any night we go out. Nightlife natives who drink, party and have a good time because they know their limits and don’t exceed them. Fanatics who drink, party and often create problems for themselves and others, because they exceed their limits over and over again. You don’t need an experiment on rats to tell you that responsible indulgence makes more sense than binging.

The problem of course is that we live in a society where over consumption is desirable. It is a sign of affluence and prosperity. We don’t want a burger. We want a super sized meal. We don’t want a house. We want a big house. We don’t want a drink. We want the whole bottle. We want more than we need to send a signal to our friends and enemies “I can afford to be extravagant.”

In the face of cultural and societal pressure to overindulge, my call for responsible indulgence will never be the mainstream view. But I’m going to keep pushing it because in the long run I think it is better for nightlife as a whole and for each one of us individually. I know it, nightlife natives know it, and thanks to some lab rats you know it too.

Have fun.