There’s a lot of folk wisdom out there about different levels of tolerance associated with binge drinking (officially defined as more than 5 drinks in 24 hours), and how this reflects on resulting idiocy, but as it happens it is in fact all relative, as shown in today’s Science Times. Behavior after excessive drinking is highly variable across cultures and societal groups.
According to sociological studies done in the ’60s, the Yuruna Indians in the Xingu region of Brazil would become “exceptionally reserved” after a lot of moonshine. The Camba of eastern Bolivia, who would drink excessively twice a month, just kept toasting each other more extravagantly with each successive drink.
In the Japanese island village of Takashima, people considered a drinking occasion out of control when villagers started to sing or dance, but violent or sexual aggression when drunk was unheard of. Contrast this to Spring Break in Cancun.
In a series of studies in the ’80s, University of Washington psychologists put 300 students in a room decorated like a bar and served icy vodka tonics to one group and icy tonic water to the other – both drinks looked and tasted the same, and most students drank around five within two hours. The ones given the placebo acted exactly as they expected to when drunk, and one participant in the study who was unwittingly given alcohol refused to believe it, since she wasn’t flushed as she usually got when drunk. When the researchers told her that she was in fact drinking alcohol, she immediately flushed.
Peer groups can also have an influence. New Zealand researcher studied two cliques of high school girls, both of which rightly associated drinking with uninhibited behavior. But while one group considered it uninhibited to just make out, the other group extended the definition uh, much further.
So, you pretty much behave as badly as you expect to when you’ve had one too many. Don’t just blame the liquor for the physical and emotional havoc you wreaked last weekend, you alky, it’s your sociocultural threshold of inhibition.