Drunk in the Moment: We Can’t Drink Reality Away

In the morning, we'll inevitably sober up and pay for last night's drunken "fun."

It’s a typical scenario: You had an awful day at work, so you hit the town with a group of friends, intent on drinking and dancing the night away. As you’re downing a sixth shot of tequila in what will undoubtedly be an eight-shot series, you turn to your friends and say, “I love you guys! Seriously, this is the best night ever! I literally mean it…best night ever.”

Then morning rolls around. Suddenly, you hate life…and the sledgehammer that seems to be trapped somewhere just below the surface of your skull.

Where Did All the Good Times Go?

In the drunken moment, everything seems so perfect and so fun; everyone around you seems to be having a blast. The next day, however, you’re right back where you started from – only now you have a migraine and the smell of food makes you want to vomit.

In moments of stress, sadness, anger or similar negative emotions, the allure of drinking seems to offer one thing: A temporary escape from reality. We’re an “instant gratification” society; we want to feel better and we want it now. The problem is that, no matter how much we drink, all those problems are still there when we sober up.

The solution to a nasty and hateful boss isn’t at the bottom of a whiskey bottle and the key to fixing a tumultuous marriage isn’t found by gulping down 14 Jell-o shots.

Proof of this drunken moment phenomenon is seen in a new study that suggests people are momentarily happier when drinking alcohol, but in the long-term, drinking never equates to increased satisfaction with life. In fact, the research – led by social policy expert Dr. Ben Baumberg Geiger at the University of Kent – found that people with drinking problems are actually less satisfied with their lives.

Happiness and Drinking

Geiger’s study set out to compare how happiness and drinking change alongside each other over a period of time. Using an iPhone-based app and a traditional cohort study, here’s what they found:

  • iPhone App: With more than two million responses, users told researchers what they were doing, with whom and how happy they were. On a scale of zero to 100, people were four points happier when drinking, although very little of this happiness trickled down into time when they weren’t drinking.

  • Traditional Study: Participants between the ages of 30 and 42 were asked to compare how they felt when they were drinking versus how they felt when they weren’t drinking. Using those comparisons, the participants were asked to evaluate feelings of overall life satisfaction. In the end, researchers found that reduced feelings of well-being went hand-in-hand with problematic drinking.

The Bottom Line

Despite all the technological advances we’ve made, there’s no definitive way to measure happiness or satisfaction in a laboratory. And though we can’t put emotions in a petri dish or marvel at them under a microscope, one thing seems pretty clear: Booze might give us an illusion of contentment in the moment, but those intoxicating feelings of instant gratification always fade and they pale in comparison to the real thing.



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