Does alcohol change your personality or reveal the real you?
Let’s introduce your two distinct identities. There’s wholesome Sober You, who can hold down a good job, maintain a committed relationship, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Then there’s debaucherous Drunk You, who wants the world to witness your filthiest dance moves, thinks seven cheeseburgers is a reasonable dinner, and sees the most trivial offense as an excuse to start a fistfight.
Many believe that Drunk You is the real you, your true character uncovered by alcohol crushing your inhibitions. Or is it instead true that booze mutates your mind, generating a total transformation of your personality?
Dr. Rachel Winograd, an assistant research professor at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, admits that this is a surprisingly complex question. “There’s a real debate about what a personality is,” Winograd says. “Does everyone have a core personality? Or is our personality totally dependent on the context we’re in? We show very different versions of ourselves in different situations.”
For example, the version of you goofing off with your buddies is very distinct from the version of you eating brunch with your grandma. Winograd believes it’s possible that Drunk You is just another variant of your versatile personality.
Thankfully, it seems no one notices that transformation from level-headed Sober You to deranged Drunk You more than you do. Winograd’s research indicates that you’ll see a substantial difference between Drunk You and Sober You, but anyone on the outside will only notice a little more extraversion.
Essentially, you no longer need to wake up from your drunken stupor in a blind panic, concerned about how insane you acted the night before. To the casual observer, nothing much changed except that you became louder, more outgoing, or maybe just a bit more obnoxious than before.
But because alcohol does alter your brain chemistry, booze is capable of turning Drunk You into a trouble-maker. “If you’re asking if alcohol changes your personality,” says Winograd, “Then we have research to suggest that, yeah, it does.”
Alcohol toys with the chemical connections in our minds, especially in a little part called the prefrontal cortex. As Winograd explains, “That’s the part that deals with complex decision-making and the part most responsible for keeping you out of trouble.” In other words, fucking with that chunk of your brain can often lead to lapses in judgement, poor life choices, and generally making a complete ass out of yourself.
Reduced inhibitions may also induce you to spill your guts, saying things you’d never utter while sober. But does that mean Drunk You is more honest than Sober You?
“For some people it’s true — for others it isn’t,” explains Winograd. “It really depends on what their motives are.” She means that it is possible for someone to have something bottled up, and finally confess it after a few drinks. But this isn’t always the case. Instead, “Sometimes, we get carried away and misspeak. Alcohol can cause that to happen, so we shouldn’t always hold people to what they said when they’re drunk.”
But if you’re not happy with the seemingly new character you become after a few cocktails, there are ways to limit the damage Drunk You can do. If you’re extremely reckless and irresponsible when intoxicated, then while you’re sober, have someone hide your car keys and credit card, and only grab enough cash to cover your Uber and a few beers. You can prevent a lot of ugly drunken consequences by making better behavioral choices when you’re sober.
We know this can sound easier said than done when Drunk You seems like a supervillian hell-bent on Sober You’s destruction. But that’s why suggesting that Drunk You is the true you is doing you a huge disservice.
Drunk You isn’t the true you because you’re a complex range of personalities that emerge in different contexts and situations. And although one of those many contexts may be chugging margaritas and making mistakes, that facet of your personality cannot define you.
Because the vast majority of your life is spent as Sober You: the you that can meet work deadlines, pay your utility bills, and show your grandma a lovely time at brunch. It’s the you that does all the hard work, and deserves to let Drunk You come out to play every once in a while.
So give yourself some credit. And cheers! To Sober You.