psychological effects of alcohol

Dutch Courage: Why Alcohol Makes You Feel Invincible

Posted on January 28th, 2017

“Dutch courage” is an old-fashioned term sometimes used to describe the feeling of invulnerability that some people get after consuming alcohol. While this feeling may provide a boost of confidence, it can also greatly increase your chances of taking part in reckless or dangerous activities that could harm your health or the health of others. A brief explanation may help clarify exactly why alcohol consumption can make you feel invincible.

Alcohol and Your Thoughts and Emotions

When you drink alcohol, it travels to your brain, where it has wide-ranging effects on your mental and emotional function. The initial psychological effects of alcohol — including a relaxed feeling and a reduced ability to think logically or make sound judgments — kick in long before you reach the point of legal intoxication (a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or higher). By the time you reach the threshold of legal drunkenness, you will typically lose a good bit of your normal inhibition. In addition, you may experience a significant uptick in your chances of acting aggressively or belligerently toward others.

Why Do You Feel Invincible?

In a study published in 2008 in the Journal of Neuroscience, a team of American researchers took a close look at the psychological effects of alcohol. Among other things, these researchers wanted to know why some people feel invincible while intoxicated. After completing their work, they concluded that two things help fuel “Dutch courage.” First, alcohol consumption significantly reduces the amount of anxiety you feel in social situations (this fact is well-known among both scientists and the general public). More importantly, when you drink to the point of intoxication, you apparently lose your ability to detect threats in your environment. In turn, this means that you don’t feel the same sensations of fear that you feel when facing dangerous situations while sober. It also means that you may not take steps to avoid danger and reduce your chances of injuring yourself or other people.

The researchers didn’t test people with alcohol problems during their study. Instead, they tested typical social drinkers without serious problems. This means that even the average person may feel an unwarranted sense of courage while intoxicated. Aggression can also contribute to reckless courage in intoxicated people. Generally speaking, you have a greater chance of acting aggressively while drunk if you’re unusually aggressive during everyday life. In fact, drunkenness can greatly boost belligerent behavior in individuals who act aggressively while sober.

 

Resources

History Extra: What Is the Origin of the Phrase “Dutch Courage?”
http://www.historyextra.com/qa/dutch-courage

National Institutes of Health – MedlinePlus: As Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Rises, So Does Impairment
https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/spring14/articles/spring14pg23.html

Journal of Neuroscience: Why We Like to Drink – An fMRI Study of the Rewarding and Anxiolytic Effects of Alcohol
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2730732/

The Ohio State University: One Trait Has Huge Impact on Whether Alcohol Makes You Aggressive
http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/alcoholfuture.htm

 

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