Tis’ the season in more ways than one—three, to be exact: to eat, drink and be merry. We are loving the party hopping but sometimes forget just how many times we’ve clinked glasses. When we’re celebrating, it’s easy to lose our cocktail count. We all know how lousy we feel after a night of one too many, but what is the definition of binge drinking anyway? Believe it or not, it’s defined as more than 3 drinks within a 3-hour period. Been there, many times.
When we’ve had too much to drink, we experience dehydration, our voices become raspy, we get headaches, feel sluggish, our skin may break out and our appearance just seems worn out. Whether it’s champagne, wine, spirits or beer, consumption is higher during this festive time of year.
How does all this holiday drinking hurt our thinking? What are the effects of binge drinking on the brain and what can we do to enjoy a few holiday cocktails without it having terrible (and even embarrassing) consequences?
What happens when we drink too much?
1. We seem to have Split Personality Disorder.
Who we are sober may change significantly with alcohol. When we consume alcohol, there’s a quick increase in dopamine, a brain neurochemical responsible for that “high,” feeling that makes a typically shy person hit the dance floor.
When you exceed 3 drinks over a 3 hour period, there’s simply more alcohol entering the bloodstream significantly reducing inhibitions. This explains how an calm, even-tempered person will become angry and even pick fights when imbibed.
2. We do things we’re ashamed of.
This is the personality change taken to another less appealing level. Behaviours such as drunk-texting, making sexual advances towards co-workers or friend’s spouses, physical altercations, even drunk driving comes into play. When you stick to two drinks over a 3-hour period with a glass of water in between, you remain much more in control.
What’s interesting to note too is that a lot of people use alcohol as a justification for the bad behaviours they really want to live out when sober. There’s the expression, a drunk person’s words are a sober person’s thoughts, for a reason. Not wanting to reach out to an ex at 2 am could serve as big motivation to limit your booze intake.
3. We sound funny.
When you have more to drink, alcohol begins to impact the central nervous system and its communication to the brain. It doesn’t take whole lot of alcohol for a shift in speech to take place. Information going from the brain to the mouth is impaired on a neurological level.
What’s more alarming here is that the more a person binge drinks, the quicker their speech becomes slurred. Slurred speech is more of a symptom of cumulative affect of alcohol on the brain.
4. We can’t seem to walk straight.
This has to do with alcohol’s impact on the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for motor functions and specifically balance and movement. Most women will blame a stumble on their high heels. Men may lean on another person while talking or hold onto a chair, the edge of the bar or another surface they feel will support them. Pay attention to these signs.
Doing several shots of alcohol or simply ingesting alcohol quickly will impact balance fast! Again it has to do with the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream, reaching the brain and the impact on the neurotransmitters. You’re messing with your brain chemistry in a profound way when you binge drink.
5. We’ve got sudden memory loss.
Ever notice how after a weekend of partying, you may lose your keys misplace your credit card and forget key details on a work assignment? That spacey, forgetfulness is due to shrinking brain mass. When you mess with neurotransmitters, you’re messing with cognitive function which includes memory.
Alcohol throws off brain chemistry in the hippocampus, a key spot in the brain helping us formulate memories. If you’re noticing blackouts where you forget leaving a party, how you got home or other details of the timeline, that’s a sign you’re drinking too much or too quickly.
What to do so you don’t get too drunk
So how can we enjoy holiday parties without making fools of ourselves or doing even something even more harmful? While it’s certainly ok to enjoy a cocktail, a beer or some wine, too much takes a toll. What you need is a well-thought out Pre-Party Plan. Here’s ours:
- Decide in advance where you are going, how long you plan to be there and what you will drink.
- Eat something beforehand so you drink on a full stomach.
- Stay hydrated by alternating drinks with water.
- Consider non-alcoholic wine instead. (WIN some here!)
- Make sure you have a taxi app on your phone, just in case.
If it’s just too hard to stop drinking or you need lots of alcohol to cope, then speak to a professional. You may be suffering from holiday related anxiety, stress or depression, all of which are more common than you know.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD is a NYC based licensed clinical psychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. a neuropsychological, developmental and educational center in Manhattan and Queens.