By Douglas Capraro
We’ve all experienced something like this before: You go out to a bar with your friends and one of them simply refuses to drink vodka because it makes them depressed. Or perhaps they won’t touch a shot of whisky because, as opposed to any other kind of liquor, it’s definitely going to make them do something they’ll regret. The same case can be made about beer, tequila, wine, or any other alcoholic beverage ad infinitum.
But do different kinds of alcohol really give you a different kind of drunk?
Contrary to popular belief, the short answer to that question would be “no”. However, although any form of alcohol essentially effects us in the same way, certain consumption habits and varying levels of non-alcoholic ingredients factor into the way we respond to certain beverages. To better understand the effects that different kinds of drinks may have on us, it’s important to understand exactly what alcohol is and what it does to our bodies.
What is Alcohol?
The word alcohol is a shortened version of the term ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. This depressant of the central nervous system is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. It enters your bloodstream when it is absorbed by the stomach and small intestine and the effects it has on the different parts of your body are varied.
The consequences of alcohol consumption on your brain, for instance, is that it interferes with your communication pathways. This can account for reduced social anxiety as well as drastic changes in one’s decision-making process when inebriated, among several other factors. In addition, the effects of alcohol on your brain can change your mood and coordination.
Heavy drinking can also have negative consequences on your liver and pancreas, leading to conditions such as Steatosis, Alcoholic hepatitis, Fibrosis, Cirrhosis, and pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas. What’s even more alarming is the consequences that alcohol can have on your likelihood of developing certain kinds of cancer, not to mention alcohol’s ability to weaken your immune system.
No matter what alcoholic beverage you are drinking though, ethanol is ethanol. Your body cannot distinguish the type of alcoholic beverage you are consuming, whether it’s 100 proof vodka or a pitcher of light beer. As long as ethanol is getting absorbed into your bloodstream, then there’s a good possibility that you’ll be getting drunk just the same.
When it comes to the way that different alcoholic beverages can effect your body though, factors such as alcohol content play an obvious role. This is because it takes a far greater amount time to get drunk on beverages with low alcohol content than it does on beverages with higher alcohol content.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the “standard” drink sizes for the different alcohol types are as follows: 12 fluid ounces of beer (about five percent alcohol), eight to nine fluid ounces of malt liquor (about seven percent alcohol), five fluid ounces of table wine (about 12 percent alcohol), and 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (40 percent alcohol).
The fact that the severity of one’s level of inebriation correlates directly with alcohol content and the amount of alcohol consumed is a no-brainer. But when it comes to the way we perceive the effects of different drinks, standard drink servings play a much different role. This is because people are extremely sensitive to memory association.
Just like any other environmental factor associated with drinking, the amount we drink when we consume a certain alcoholic beverage for the first time and the speed in which we drink it has a large impact on the way we may feel about that particular drink later in life. This is because most of the distinctions we make between different alcoholic drinks are purely psychological.
For instance, if somebody drinking high proof tequila for the first time ends up consuming too much and doing something regrettable, it is likely that they will always think tequila makes them “crazy”. Similarly, if somebody drinks malt liquor for the first time at a college party or some other formative incident, then they will always associate malt liquor with having a good time. As a result, their mind will then convince them that malt liquor causes them to have a good time as a way to try and relive those experiences.
The impact that memory association has on the way we think about different drinks is enormous. However, there are also some other more chemical elements that factor into the way we react to certain beverages.
An effect of alcohol that everyone can probably relate to is the hangover. Although there is essentially no difference between the alcohol in a shot of tequila and the alcohol in a 12 oz. serving of beer, the type of alcoholic beverage you consume definitely has an effect on the severity of your hangover the next day. This in turn forms a definite distinction in the way we are affected by certain alcoholic drinks.
The hangover, which is a non-medical term used to describe the after effects of alcohol consumption, is an unpleasant combination of nausea, headaches, dehydration, tremors and fatigue, as well as an inability to respond thoughtfully to your environment. These factors are largely determined by complex organic molecules called congeners. The amount of congeners in different types of alcohol can vary greatly, therefore effecting the way we react to different drinks during our hangovers. The more congeners in a drink, the more sever the hangover will be the next day.
Take red wine, for instance, which is loaded with congeners. Hangovers from red wine are guaranteed to be more severe than many other kinds of alcoholic beverages. This in turn effects the way we associate psychologically with the drink. Red wine is also unique in that it contains high levels of melatonin due to the skin of the grapes that are used to produce it. White wine may give you an equally wicked hangover as red wine due to the equal number of congeners, but since it’s not produced using red grapes, it doesn’t contain the same level of melatonin and therefore won’t make you as sleepy.
Dark liquors like bourbon are also more likely to lead to severe hangovers compared to drinks like vodka due to a much higher concentration of congeners. In fact, there is one study that even found 33 percent of bourbon drinkers to have hangovers the next day while only three percent of vodka drinkers experienced hangovers. A chemical factor that differentiates champagne from other alcoholic beverages is the amount of carbon dioxide it contains. Unlike myths associated with other drinks, this does actually cause somebody to get drunk quicker since it helps absorb the alcohol into your bloodstream more efficiently.
So even though there is no scientific evidence to suggest that there are any inherent differences between the alcohol contained in different kinds of alcoholic beverages, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that we are effected by the way our experiences mold those distinctions in our mind. In addition, minor factors such as the amount of hangover-inducing congeners that are in different drinks can also effect our drinking experiences overall.