Science now has some evidence for something that drinkers have long believed, but no one has been able to explain: The sort of alcohol you drink affects your mood when drunk.
Drinkers have long attributed certain emotional states to their choice of tipple. Singer Paul Kelly plays on the juniper-flavored spirit’s reputation for melancholy when he ponders “how many tears in a bottle of gin,” and it might not be a coincidence rum spells half of rumble.
Popular as these beliefs are, chemists have cause to question them. There may be all sorts of different flavor compounds that influence our choice of drink, but these are all just ways to make a mixture of ethanol and water attractive. Why would one flavoring of ethanol make you sad and another happy?
Yet a large-scale study in BMJ Open appears to have found confirmation, with spirits being linked to aggression and red wine making people relaxed. What remains unclear is whether this is really an effect of the drink itself or if people’s expectations are shaping their experiences. Moreover, if people choose their tipple based on how they wish to feel, these could be self-fulfilling prophecies.
The study used responses to the Global Drug Survey from 30,000 people aged 18-34 across 21 countries, based on their experiences during the previous year. Analysis was restricted to those who reported drinking all alcohol types. The survey did not distinguish between different sorts of spirits, nor beer varieties, so plenty of complexity may have been missed. However, some patterns were hard to miss.
Aggression was associated with drinking spirits by 30 percent of respondents, but only 2-3 percent for wines and 6.7 percent for beer. Relaxation was the reverse, as 53 percent of respondents associated it with red wine and half with beer, but just 20 percent with spirits. Sixty percent found red wine tiring, but just 18 percent said the same for white.
Spirits are not just drunk by those planning to fight however, as it also has a strong association with energy and confidence (59 percent) and feeling sexy (42 percent). No data was reported on whether drinking spirits makes other people think you’re sexy.
The paper’s authors also break the sample down by age, sex, nation, and educational attainment. They note that it’s the youngest drinkers sampled (18-24) who are most likely to associate alcohol, of all types, with confidence, suggesting we do learn some things with age. Men and heavy drinkers were far more likely than women and moderate drinkers to report aggression.
Author Professor Mark Bellis of Public Health Wales noted spirits’ historical association with violence, and questioned why many countries allow these drinks to be sold so cheaply. Perhaps politicians fear the response of aggressive spirit drinkers to legislated higher prices.