If you tend to drink with the same group of people, chances are you have a rough idea of which friend is the "happy drunk," the "messy drunk," or the "sad drunk." And, even if you don't have a steady group of drinking friends, you've probably heard someone say that they get "crazy" when they drink. Or, at the very least, you've taken a quiz about your "drunk personality." But, can drinking actually change your personality to that extent?
The short answer: Yes, but it might not be as straightforward as you think.
Rachel Winograd, PhD, assistant research professor at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, says that your personality involves how you present yourself to other people and the way you feel about yourself and the situation you're in.
"Our personality or expression of personality can differ when we’re intoxicated," Dr. Winograd says. "But, our personality isn’t just how we behave, it’s also how we feel, and how we experience any given situation. Of course, things that are visible externally are more noticeable to other people, especially people that don’t know us."
Last year, Dr. Winograd and a team of researchers published a study on the phenomenon of a "drunk personality," which found that people can change when they drink — but the change probably isn't as drastic as they believe. Rather, people think that they're more of a hot mess than they actually are.
"We found that one particular aspect of our personality changes most noticeably to others, and that was extroversion," she says.
In other words, you're probably not imagining it if you think drinking makes you more talkative, or if you think it makes you share things you normally wouldn't. George F. Koob, PhD, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), says that because alcohol dulls the sense of restraint, it might cause you to be more carefree than you normally are.
One particular aspect of our personality changes most noticeably to others, and that was extroversion.
Rachel Winograd, PhD
"Alcohol disinhibits that [control] system, so you lose that inhibitory control over your reptile brain," he says. "And so for some people, that can be manifested in an extroverted and agreeable personality, and for others, it can result in anger and the 'bad drunk,' so to speak."
But, Dr. Koob says that it's not about alcohol bringing out a totally different personality. These traits already exist in you and are just heightened when you drink.
"The way I think of it is that it really depends on what underlying inhibitions you have that are let loose when the alcohol disinhibits," he says. "People who are happy, with a little bit of alcohol, are probably going to be a little bit more happy. But, people who are suppressing anger and resentment and have a chip on their shoulder, when they drink, that is going to be exposed and exaggerated."
So, while drinking can exaggerate the emotions you already have or make you a little more outwardly expressive (and maybe push you to finally talk to your crush), it doesn't make you into a whole different person.
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