Why Alcohol Instantly Makes You Feel Better

Photographed by Sunny Shokrae.
An after-work drink has long been the cure for a bad day, this you know. But new research points to exactly why that glass of rosé works so well — and so quickly: Alcohol may actually affect your brain in the same way a rapid antidepressant (such as ketamine) does.

For the study, published this week in the online journal Nature Communications, researchers wanted to test why booze seems to provide relief from symptoms of depression. To do so, they got two separate groups of mice kinda drunk: normal mice and another group of mice that had been bred without the ability to create a protein that's involved in the memory-formation process. After their equivalent of happy hour, the normal mice showed changes in the way that memory-related neurotransmitter worked. But mice without the protein didn't show the same effect, suggesting that this protein is necessary for alcohol's mood-enhancing effects. Plus, the mice showed improved mood-related behavior for more than 24 hours after getting tipsy.

The researchers concluded that this may help explain why us humans also feel better emotionally after a drink or two.

“Additional research is needed in this area, but our findings do provide a biological basis for the natural human instinct to self-medicate,” explained lead author Kimberly Raab-Graham, PhD, in a press release. This also might be why people who struggle with alcohol dependency tend to have depression, as well.

The researchers also warned that that the urge to self-medicate can easily turn into alcohol dependence, however. So, while there's nothing wrong with the instinct to immediately run to happy hour tonight to take the edge off of the long week, if you find yourself regularly turning in that direction, it might be time to find another (non-alcoholic) outlet.

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