Alcohol consumption

Alcohol Consumption and Creativity

Why do we drink alcohol and what are the reasons behind it?


Historically, alcohol consumption is associated with our mood at a particular moment. It is an irrational decision focused on enhancing positive emotions, emphasizing feelings of relaxation, unlocking creativity, breaking down the sociability barriers, increasing social bonding levels, and using it as an antidote to negative emotions and fatigue.

Most people drink to achieve a particular goal; that goal is unique to each individual and personality. What most people have in common is that the decision is based on the current emotional state and memory recall, in effect creating an internal desire image, a desire to feel in a particular way, which leads to motivation and taking action of consuming alcohol.

It becomes a self-propelled circle of activity; it is fueled by emotions, memories, and surroundings, resulting in an internal decision, “I need a drink,” and acting upon it.

I feel sad, stressed, or tired – I remember what made me feel better – I want to feel like that again, I need a drink, I feel better.

Alcohol emovtion circle2

That doesn’t mean people drink only when they are sad, there are many other reasons (birthday, promotion, having a good time with friends, addiction, stress, and countless other individual situations), but again the common denominator among all of them is the goal to achieve a desired emotional state reinforced by the “It made me feel good” memories of past experience.

Alcohol and Emotions

Exploring and understanding the relationships between perceived emotions, alcohol consumption, and in particular, how alcohol triggers different emotional experiences is a fascinating subject, not just from a health/addiction point of view, but also from a personal perspective of why we do things or feel in a particular way after few drinks.

Everyone is aware of the influence of alcohol over one’s behavior and psychological state and the subsequent positive or negative outcome of the decisions we make at that time.

Questions like “How much should we drink?”, “How often should we drink” “When to drink?” are very important in our quest to manage our daily lives, and not allowing alcohol to become a means to a happy emotional life.

But there are also other questions, which I found very interesting from my bartender’s point of view.

  • Do emotions and behavior depend on the type of drinks we are consuming?
  • Does alcohol, regardless of what kind, makes people react and feel always in the same way or not?

Survey

An attempt to answer these questions was made by researchers using the internationally established Global Drug Survey (GDS).

Their goal was to use the feedback from the survey to see if they could find answers to the following questions:

  • To identify which drink types are associated with different emotional outcomes in alcohol consumers and how both demographic factors and levels of dependency on alcohol affect such relationships.
  • They also wanted to see whether the emotions of the respondents associated with two different drink types influence their choices of drinks in different settings.
  • To analyze how emotions relate to drink choice in different settings, what drinks were reported to be most consumed in different settings, and the emotions that people associate with those particular drink types.

The initial pool of people was 60578, aged between 18-34 years old, from 21 countries, but the results were based on a final sample size of 29 836, as not all of the participants reported trying all the beverages of interest (spirits, white wine, red wine, and beer). The survey was carried out between November 2015 and January 2016.

It asked people about the emotions they experienced while drinking the four types of alcohol. It also asked how often people drank and which drinks they chose in different settings.

Respondents had to report if they had experienced any of the following emotions:

  • positive emotions: energized, confident, relaxed, sexy
  • negative emotions: tired, aggressive, ill, restless, tearful

Results

The study1 found different types of alcohol are associated with different types of emotions, eliciting both positive and negative emotions and highlighting the complex relationships between drink choice, emotions, and the settings in which alcohol is consumed. 2

Over half of all respondents associated drinking spirits with emotions of energy and confidence, and 42.4% reported that drinking spirits made them feel sexy.

Respondents were most likely to report:

  • Feeling relaxed (52.8%) when drinking red wine; although almost half of the respondents also reported feeling relaxed when drinking beer.
  • Drinking spirits were more likely to draw out feelings of aggression, illness, restlessness, and tearfulness than all other drink types. However, red wine was the most likely to make individuals feel relaxed or tired.
  • Women, though, we’re more likely to say they experienced any type of emotion while drinking alcohol, with the exception of aggression.
  • Those who were dependent on alcohol were most likely to experience any type of emotional response regardless of the type of alcohol.
    • This was most striking with aggression – those who showed signs of alcohol dependence were six times more likely to say they felt aggression while drinking.

Except for feeling aggressive, women were also significantly more likely than men to report each emotion due to drinking any type of alcohol. Women had higher odds of feeling all emotions than men apart from aggression, whereas men had significantly higher odds.

Younger age groups (18-24) had higher odds of feeling all emotions apart from tiredness and aggression.

Respondents’ alcohol consumption was strongly associated with positive and negative emotions, with heavier drinkers more likely to report all emotional changes resulting from drinking.
This relationship was especially strong for the emotions of aggression, whereas the increase in tiredness was negligible.

Emotional associations by individual drink type

Overall reported emotions by individual type of alcoholic drink (%)

Positive EmotionsSpiritsRed wineWhite wineBeer
Energized58.367.1415.0724.76
Confident59.0827.8828.2744.54
Relaxed20.1552.8032.6749.87
Sexy42.4225.2023.7318.86
Negative emotions
Tired15.3360.0818.4438.92
Aggressive29.832.572.746.44
ILL47.8219.2914.516.71
Restless27.815.186.159.37
Tearful22.2417.109.969.98
Based on Table 1- https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/10/e016089

Positive emotions were reported more frequently for each drink type by those with higher alcohol dependency scores.

That was also true of negative emotions, except for feeling tired when drinking spirits or white wine.

Women were more likely to report each emotion when drinking spirits, red wine, and white wine, except for feeling relaxed, tired, or aggressive with spirits and energized with red wine.
Men were more likely to report each emotion when drinking beer, apart from feeling tearful.

Reported emotions also varied within the age group.

  • The younger age group (18-24) was feeling tired or relaxed when drinking spirits and red wine more frequently.
  • The oldest age group reported the same feelings but drinking white wine and beer.
  • Italian residents more frequently reported feeling energized while drinking red wine.
  • Colombia was more likely to report feeling energized when drinking spirits.

Emotional associations with any type of alcohol by choice of drink in different settings.

Significant differences were reported between emotions elicited by the types of drinks that were mainly drunk at home compared with a night out.

The association between emotions of aggression and dependency was noticeably strongest, independent of the setting. Women more frequently reported drinking types of alcohol at home and when out elicited the emotion of feeling sexy compared with men.

Positive emotions
 Mostly drank a drink associated with feeling.
  EnergizedAt home8008 (26.84)
When out13 259 (44.44)
  RelaxedAt home19 271 (64.59)
When out13 929 (46.69)
  SexyAt home9244 (30.98)
When out10 458 (35.05)
  ConfidentAt home14 613 (48.98)
When out17 673 (59.23)


Negative emotions
 Mostly drank a drink associated with feeling.
  TiredAt home12 535 (42.01)
When out8394 (28.13)
  AggressiveAt home1888 (6.33)
When out4087 (13.7)
  IllAt home3653 (12.24)
When out6077 (20.37)
  RestlessAt home2589 (8.68)
When out4583 (15.36)
  TearfulAt home4367 (14.64)
When out4573 (15.33)
Based on Table 5A – https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/10/e016089#DC1

People reporting dependency on alcohol showed a strong association with drinking any type of alcohol which made them feel energized, sexy and confident whether drinking at home or when out.

They also reported a greater tendency to select any type of drink that elicited emotions of aggression and tearfulness when drinking at home or when out.

The association between emotions of aggression and dependency was noticeably strongest, independent of the setting.

Next steps

The survey findings should not be taken as 100 percent certainty in predicting human behavior while consuming specific beverages or in a particular environment. Many variables may influence that behavior, such as;  differences in alcohol volume, mixers consumed with drinks, the effect of alcohol advertising on the perceived mood of drinkers, cultural background, etc.

These findings can be used as part of a larger strategy and understanding of how alcohol may impact individuals and be proactive in dealing with them in the service industry or as a tool in alcohol prevention policies.

Another clear evidence of the survey is alcohol-related aggressiveness and its part in violence, domestic or public, in many countries.
Public health officials can also use that information in their efforts to reduce such violent outcomes by better understanding alcohol consumption behavior, implementing health response policies, and visual advertisements.

Alcohol and Creativity

An important “side effect” not covered by the survey is the belief that creativity can sometimes be unlocked by alcohol.

No, I’m not advocating every time one is trying to solve a problem to go to the local bar or get drunk, but a popular belief is that many people after having a drink or two suddenly can see a new way of solving a problem or new creative ideas pop up in their mind.

Why is it that being intoxicated might lead to improved creativity?

Alcohol Creativity
Based on Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay.

According to Sian Beilock, Ph.D., a cognitive scientist and the President of Barnard College at Columbia University, it has something to do with the alcohol’s effect on working memory: the brainpower that helps us keep what we want in mind and what we don’t want out.

One of the effects of alcohol on our brain is reducing the focus on some things and ignoring others, which helps creative problem-solving.

By acquiring lots of data regarding a problem, one is trying to solve can lead to a point where it feels no more new information is being registered. Grinding down possible solutions will eventually reveal the desired outcome, the “Aha!” moment. The trigger can sometimes be a drink, as alcohol leads to reduced focus levels, taking your mind off the problem and letting your mind roam freely, a sort of brainpower reboot.

The same results can be accomplished without alcohol by stepping away from the problem for a few hours/days, doing some completely unrelated chores, and just waiting for the “Eureka!” moment.

Creativity and innovation are something that can not be confined during office hours. It cannot be forced or scheduled, and it manifests whenever the working memory is ready with the solution. Alcohol definitely plays a part in unlocking that ability, but one always has to be aware of the adverse health effects of overconsumption and potential addiction.

It has to be mentioned here that the positive effect of alcohol triggered creativity depends on the type of problem. If the situation requires learning new information, then the effect of the alcohol causes the new input to be ignored, and it may prevent the problem solver from accomplishing the task at hand.

If I can summarize it, having lots of information helps people accomplish an analytical job, but sometimes we need the “think out of the box” approach, and that’s where the alcohol might come into play.
Unlocking or rebooting our brainpower requires a trigger, and whether it is alcohol or some other approach, it might be the only way to discovery and creativity.

According to Dr. Benedek, the alcohol effect probably works in a couple of different ways.

  • “The first being that when you are really focusing on solving a problem, you can become fixated so that your mind gets stuck on one way of addressing it. Alcohol makes it more difficult to keep all the parameters of the task in mind, but that can also help you come at it from another direction.
  • “The second theory is that alcohol, which is distracting from the central task, allows you to tap into your unconscious mind and find alternative solutions,”

I have to say the benefits of alcohol on the creative process, scientifically, as far as I know, have not been proven. There were a couple of surveys, one by psychologist Jennifer Wiley and her research group and the other by Dr.Benedek, who found a definite connection between alcohol and creativity. Still, I have to say that proving that relationship scientifically will be complex, as most of the thought process is done on a subconscious level.

Footnotes

  1. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/10/e016089#DC1
  2. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/10/e016089#table-wrap-group-2

5 thoughts on “Alcohol Consumption and Creativity”

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    was great. I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

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