A DRINK IS A DRINK, right? Well yes and no. While a 12-ounce beer, 5.5-ounce glass of wine and 1.5-ounce
shot of whiskey (for instance) are all considered equal in terms of alcohol content, a new study shows that the
effect they have on us differs in terms of emotions. Research involving 3O,OOO people has found drinkers
have significantly different emotional responses to different alcoholic drinks. The study, led by experts at
Bangor University and King’s College London, found red wine was likely to make people feel amorous and
relaxed, but also tired and tearful. Drinking spirits was linked to feelings of aggression and restlessness but also
gave people a boost of energy and confidence. Beer increased both relaxation and confidence. White wine was seen to have a similar impact as red wine but far less pronounced.
The data is taken from the Global Drug Survey, an online questionnaire of 18- to 34-year-olds conducted in 11 languages in 21 countries around the world. Responses differed by educational attainment, country of origin, and age, with the youngest age group (18 to 24) the most likely to associate any type of alcohol with feelings of confidence, energy and sexiness when drinking away from home. The responses also differed by gender and category of alcohol. Women were significantly more likely than men to associate each feeling, except for aggression, with all types of alcohol. But men were significantly more likely to associate feelings of aggression with all types of alcohol, as were those categorized as heavy/dependent drinkers, who were six times more likely to do so than low risk drinkers. And heavy drinkers were more likely to select any drink that was associated for them with feelings of aggression and tearfulness when at home or when out.
The authors, writing in the online journal BMJ Open, said: “Understanding emotions associated with alcohol consumption is imperative to addressing alcohol misuse, providing insight into what emotions influence drink choice between different groups in the population.” Professor Mark Bellis of Bangor University, who is also Public Health Wales’ director of policy, research and international development, said: “For centuries, the history of rum, gin, vodka and other spirits has been laced with violence. This global study suggests even today consuming spirits is more likely to result in feelings of aggression than other drinks.” Bellis said the way people drink it is partly responsible for the different emotional responses: “Spirits are often consumed more quickly and have much higher concentrations of alcohol in them. This can result in a quicker stimulating effect as blood alcohol levels increase. They may also be consumed in different social occasions so people may be drinking them deliberately to feel the drunken effect quickly while other types of drink are more likely to be consumed slowly or with food.” As people get the kick from escalating alcohol levels, the same increases reduce the brain’s ability to suppress impulsive feelings or to consider the consequences of acting on them. The scientists also noted that people’s preconceptions about drinks also play a role. For example, if people drink red wine to relax they will probably end up more relaxed, and if they drink vodka to party they will probably end up feeling energized.