Maybe you prefer the classy way a “shaken not stirred” vodka martini makes you feel. Or perhaps you’re nostalgic for the college craziness of tequila shots. Society has cultivated a vibe around each of the types of alcohol that we imbibe, and on Tuesday, a study published in BMJ Open suggests that they’re more than just stereotypes — the drink choices we make really do affect how we feel.
In the study, the research team, affiliated with King’s College London and the Public Health Wales National Health Service Trust, analyzed data from the Global Drug Survey on the drinking habits of 30,000 adults and the emotions they associated with drinking certain types of alcohol. They concluded that booze stirs up a wide range of emotions, including feeling energized, sexy, confident, tired, aggressive, ill, restless, and tearful — all depending on the person’s drink of choice.
Spirits, the survey revealed, was linked to the most intense feelings: This type of alcohol, which includes “hard” liquor like vodka and gin, was most closely linked to negative emotions. Approximately 33 percent of spirit drinkers reported that it made them feel aggressive; for comparison, only 2.5 percent of wine drinkers said their beverage of choice made them feel the same.
However, spirits were also linked to more positive feelings than beer or wine. Approximately 59 percent of the survey respondents, all of whom were adults aged 18 to 34 from 21 countries, said that spirits helped them feel energetic and confident. Nearly half of the same respondents said that they also associated spirits with feeling sexy.
Accordingly, spirits were labeled as less relaxation-inducing than beer and wine. Approximately 20 percent of the survey respondents said that they associated spirits with feeling relaxed, whereas 52 percent of the respondents agreed that red wine was relaxing. Beer did well in the relaxing category as well, with 49.87 percent of respondents saying it chilled them out.
The survey responses seemed to be influenced by factors like the respondent’s country of origin, gender, and age. The youngest age group, people aged 18 to 24, were more likely to associate drinking any alcohol with energy, sexiness, and confidence. Women were more likely to report associating any feeling with a type of alcohol, except when it came to aggression — men were significantly more likely to report feeling aggressive after drinking alcohol, no matter what they drank.
The most noticeable difference between people from different countries was whether alcohol made them feel negative or positive. The survey respondents who most frequently felt energized, relaxed, and sexy from booze were those from Columbia and Brazil. The country with the strongest association with aggressive drinking was Norway, while those from France were the most likely to say alcohol made them feel restless.
The amount of alcohol people consumed was an important factor as well. People who self-categorized as heavy drinkers were six times more likely to associate feelings of aggression with all types of alcohol, compared to low-risk drinkers. Despite this, the authors theorize that dependent drinkers drink to generate positive emotions as well, noting that heavy drinkers were also five times more likely to say drinking made them feel energized.
The authors are careful to note that, because the Global Drug Survey was an observational study with self-reported data, they can’t make any firm conclusions about a cause-effect relationship between certain types of alcohol and specific emotions. Different factors are involved in the development of emotion — whether it’s advertising, body chemistry, drink chemistry, or even where the drink is drunk. In the past, some people have used the “Alcohol is Alcohol” theory to argue that the link between individual drinks and different emotions is bunk, but this survey suggests that the reality is more complicated and likely involves factors other than just ethanol.
Regardless, this study illuminates the links we make between drinking and emotions as a society, and coming to this understanding is an important one: Alcohol misuse is pervasive around the globe, accounting for 3.3 million deaths a year.
“Understanding emotions associated with alcohol consumption is imperative to addressing alcohol misuse, providing insight into what emotions influence drink choice between different groups in the population,” the authors write.
“The differences identified between sociodemographic groups and influences on drink choice within different settings will aid future public health practices to further comprehend individuals’ drinking patterns and influence behavior change.”