Does Alcohol Reveal the Real You?

Alcohol is only a truth serum for a brain that’s not working well, not your everyday brain.

“Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” So sayeth noted philosopher Homer Simpson. It’s the ubiquitous social lubricant that makes it easier to socialize, and some would say, freely speak our minds and reveal our true feelings to others.

But is alcohol really a truth serum? The short answer is yes, but only for the kind of truth that leaks out of a brain that’s not working too well. Which is to say, no, not really.

So what is going on when we tell someone we barely know how wonderful, no, I mean really great, they are when we’re smashed?

Alcohol, the Depressive Stimulant. Of Course You’re Confused.

As a depressant, alcohol reduces some neurotransmitters and increases others. 

  • Alcohol reduces production of excitory neurotransmitters like glutamate that support clear thinking and produce energy.
  • Alcohol increases production of inhibitory neurotransmitters such as gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or “GABA,” which slows. Everything. Down.
  • Alcohol’s effect on your cerebral cortex is what makes your brain so, er, different when you’re drinking. This is where booze knocks clear thought off the rails, making you less careful about what you say and making Drunk You a stupid, brakes-off version of Real You.

    Alcohol also makes you process sensory information less efficiently, cutting down your reaction time

    A cerebellum on alcohol is out of whack, making the inebriated stumble, lose balance, and fall down, or maybe all of the above at once.

    While it’s busy gumming up the works on one hand, alcohol also increases the amount of pleasure-inducing dopamine your brain releases. This is why alcohol makes you feel happy, even as it’s making your brain work less well.

    *picks up beer*
    *drinks beer*

    — Bucky Isotope (@BuckyIsotope) July 23, 2015

    Dopamine’s also the reason alcohol can seem to offer a respite from life’s problems.

    Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life. George Bernard Shaw

    Of course, alcoholic logorrhea creates others. Hey, there are apps to help you avoid drunk dialing.

    He/She Loves Me, He/She Loves Me Not

    There are people who wonder why their loved ones only open up when they’re drunk. Is it the booze talking, or are these honest expressions of affection? It’s likely a question of drunkenness. If someone’s only slightly inebriated, such statements are more likely to be true because the the brain’s mostly still working. But while alcohol doesn’t make the brain function in a completely new way — which is to say you’re still in there somewhere — it does make clear thinking less likely, so the feelings being so freely expressed are the result of impaired thinking. They’re likely to align with the sober truth sometimes: Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

    Getty Images
    Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
    • Human beings are psychologically hardwired to fear differences
    • Several recent studies show evidence that digital spaces exacerbate the psychology which contributes to tribalism
    • Shared experiences of awe, such as space travel, or even simple shared meals, have surprising effectives for uniting opposing groups
    Keep reading Show less

    Breakthrough Starshot's incredible plan to laser-propel spacecraft to Alpha Centauri

    The $100-million startup is moving ahead with an audacious vision for space exploration.

    Breakthrough Starshot spacecraft propelled towards Alpha Centauri by a powerful laser beam. Breakthrough Foundation
    Surprising Science
    • The Breakthrough Starshot initiative was co-founded by Stephen Hawking.
    • The project raised $100 million and is moving ahead with extensive research.
    • The goal of Starshot is to send tiny "StarChip" spacecraft to explore neighboring star systems.
    Keep reading Show less

    NASA releases first sounds ever captured on Mars

    On Friday, NASA's InSight Mars lander captured and transmitted historic audio from the red planet.

    Surprising Science
    • The audio captured by the lander is of Martian winds blowing at an estimated 10 to 15 mph.
    • It was taken by the InSight Mars lander, which is designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets, and possibly discover liquid water on Mars.
    • Microphones are essentially an "extra sense" that scientists can use during experiments on other planets.
    Keep reading Show less

    How the Moon’s ice craters will power a human colony

    Astronauts will be able to harvest the Moon's natural resources to sustain human life.

    • NASA's Michelle Thaller walks us through what it will take to sustain human life on the surface of the Moon.
    • One way would be to run a very strong electrical current through water, separating it into hydrogen and oxygen. It's how astronauts on the International Space Station currently harvest oxygen to breathe.
    • There's already evidence of ice at the Moon's poles, likely thanks to billions of years of asteroid and comet collisions. All we have to do is harvest it. People on the future Moon base could also use those ice repositories to make liquid rocket fuel.

    Keep reading Show less