Sean Cate
Sean Cate
February 3, 2024 ·  3 min read

Is Drunk You the “Real You”? Scientists Weigh In on Impulsive Behavior

There’s a reason they call them “spirits”. After a few glasses that reserved work colleague who you’ve only exchanged a few words with is now dancing impulsively with her shoes off, and your diplomatic supervisor suddenly doesn’t have any qualms about voicing his political opinions to anyone within a 10-foot radius. Consuming alcohol socially is common in almost every culture, but not everyone can agree on whether alcohol is a “truth serum”, “liquid courage”… or if it actually has the ability to make people act entirely outside of their true character.

A team of psychology researchers from the University of Missouri decided to find out once and for all what the true effect of drinking alcohol actually is. They published their study in 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Psychological Science– here’s what they found.

Drinking’s Effect on Your Personality

alcohol and impulsive behavior explained

It turns out, you’re pretty much the same whether you’re sober or drunk.

The researchers split 156 participants into a drinking group (Sprite and vodka) and a non-drinking group (just Sprite). Then, they placed them into groups of a few friends (some drinking alcohol, some drinking soda) and had them engage in various activities that would highlight different aspects of their personalities.

Participants were asked to rate changes in their personalities (things like how extroverted they acted, how open they were, how agreeable they were, how impulsive, etc.) and their self-reporting was compared to their answers to the same questions 2 weeks prior while sober. Additionally, a team of trained observers watched the group of friends and made notes on their behaviors as they drank.

Results showed that drinkers thought their personalities changed dramatically while they were drinking, but outside observers didn’t notice much- if any- difference between their sober personalities and their drunk personalities.

The conclusion?

Your perception of “drunk you” is actually just you. You’re not any more extroverted or open or agreeable drunk than you are on any given day, despite what you might think. Which is a good thing- you’re a pretty fun person already if you allow yourself to be!

Why Do Some People Act So Ridiculous When They’re Drunk?

does drinking make you impulsive

This, of course, begs the question of why some people start to act a little wild when they drink socially if alcohol doesn’t actually have that much of an effect on their personalities?

This study would suggest that the social environment and social factors themselves makes people feel like they can play by different rules, so to speak. If you had the safety net of people thinking you’re only dancing (poorly) because you’re drunk, then you’re less likely to feel timid about it. And if you usually monitor who you open up to about your political opinions (but you’re really dying to talk about them with someone), then a work party seems like a safe, non-judgmental place to be vociferous.

You Don’t Need to Drink to Have Fun

drinking impulsive behavior social factors

Alcohol consumption can lead to some serious health conditions. It’s been linked to cancer, weight gain, cognitive decline, and of course the undue stress on your liver. So if you’ve only been drinking to feel more at ease in certain social situations, now you have the excuse to stop!

This study proves that you don’t need alcohol to have fun. You don’t need it to be an interesting conversationalist, or to tear it up on the dance floor. When you find ways to enjoy friendships while being 100% yourself, it’s all for the better.

Did you agree with the researchers’ conclusions? What are your thoughts on drinking responsibly?