Your night out, as told by science
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
Tequila shots, questionable dancing and crying to a girl you met 10 minutes ago in the bathroom. We’ve all woken up the next morning after a big night and wondered “why the hell did I do that?” I’m here to tell you, there is a scientific answer. Warning: maybe don’t read this if you’re nursing a hangover…
6pm: The night is young! You’re doing your make up, listening to Shania Twain
When alcohol (or ethanol) is ingested, it travels to the stomach and small intestine, gets absorbed into the blood stream and crosses the blood-brain barrier to affect the brain. Specifically, alcohol affects neurotransmitters, which are the brain’s chemical messengers, sending messages between parts of the brain, and to the body. Neurotransmitters are either inhibitory (decreasing brain activity) or excitatory (increasing brain activity). Alcohol causes an increase in inhibitory neurotransmitters and a decrease in the excitatory neurotransmitters, the worst of both worlds! Causing an overall decrease in your ability to remember TikTok dances. The first couple drinks of the night causes a release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin and GABA. GABA is especially important in inhibiting brain activity and slowing down your brain responses. These neurotransmitters work together to make you feel calm, happy, destressed and confident enough to try a winged eyeliner look.
8pm: You’ve made it to pres! Another game of beer pong anyone?
Alcohol is technically a toxin (booooo!) and your body is not the biggest fan. The liver helps to break down the ethanol to something more manageable for the body to deal with. Ethanol first breaks down to a chemical called acetaldehyde (highly toxic and one of the nasties causing your hangover) and then down to acetate, which is easily expelled by the body. Excess drinking forces your liver into overdrive and it struggles to keep up (what a lightweight). The poor little liver can’t metabolise fast enough and the blood-alcohol content is climbing. I’d like to take this moment to formally apologise to my liver for everything I’ve put it through.
10pm-12am: You’ve made it out! Fortitude Valley doesn’t seem that gross?
You’ve forgotten what club you’re heading to because alcohol affects the hippocampus, a region in the brain in charge of memory storage. You tell the seccy you’ve only had a couple and stumble into the club, thinking you’re the Meryl Streep of acting sober. This is due to our old friend GABA, the inhibitory neurotransmitter, causing a decrease in muscle function. Your muscles try their very best with the limited information they’re getting from the brain. You then need to pee for the 100th time and head for the 10 minute wait for the bathroom and no “breaking the seal” isn’t true. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you pee a lot. Alcohol inhibits the hormone vasopressin, which tells the kidneys to release water, causing you to continue to pee and making you dehydrated. This is the point you wish you remembered to buy a Gatorade for the morning. Alcohol also affects the limbic system, a part of the brain involved in emotion, causing you to make some new best friends in the bathroom.
1am: To Maccas for a feed, home for a quick vom before crawling into bed, ceiling spinning
Whilst it’s not completely known why alcohol causes overeating, especially when alcohol does contain calories, there are some proposed causes. A study by Nature subjected some mice to a boozy weekend bender and found that alcohol activated certain neurons in the hypothalamus, which are usually stimulated with intense hunger and starvation. Basically, your drunk brain believes its starving (very dramatic) and wants food ASAP. A cheeky vom before bed is the liver’s way of saying “enough is enough! I’ll have to be the sensible one” and decides to get rid of the excess alcohol in an easy, discreet and classy way.
8am: Waking up to a throbbing headache and a head full of embarrassment
Ahh, the dreaded hangover. The biggest problem causing a hangover is dehydration from all the peeing done the night before. Your body also has a build-up of acetaldehyde, the broken down ethanol chemical, caused from the liver being overworked the night before. Acetaldehyde is the culprit of both nausea and a blinding headache. Dehydration magnifies all hangover symptoms. Different alcohols have also been known to cause differing severity of hangovers. This is due to the chemicals formed in the processing and maturation of the alcohol, called congeners. Alcohols containing high congeners (wine, tequila, whiskey) are more likely to cause severe hangovers than alcohols with low congeners (vodka, gin, white rum). This explains why we would all wake up fresh as a daisy at 18 after a night on the vodka raspberries.
Being drunk seems like a lot of work now I’m thinking about it… Oh well, it’s something to think about next time you get on the wines!