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Friday, April 26, 2013

Do different kinds of alcohol get you different kinds of drunk?

First off: alcohol is alcohol – which is to say that the alcohol in wine is the same as the alcohol in beer is the same as the alcohol in the unholy red-cup concoction at a dormroom game of King's Cup. That alcohol is ethyl alcohol, aka ethanol, and it'll get you drunk. The fact that liquor tends to contain higher concentrations of ethanol than wine, and wine higher concentrations than beer, means that the same volume of different alcoholic beverages will get you more/less drunk, ergo the "standard drink" rule, as defined by the National Institutes of Health:
In the United States, a "standard" drink is any drink that contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of "pure" alcohol. Although the drinks below are different sizes, each contains approximately the same amount of alcohol and counts as a single standard drink.
The standard drink model suggests that when it comes to behavioral effects, the only difference between a can of beer and a shot of whiskey is the mode of delivery. Ounce-for-ounce, an 80-proof shot of MaCallan's is a much more efficient ethanol-delivery system than a can of Bud Light. If you down a few shots of the former really quickly, you'll experience a rapid spike in your blood alcohol level, and, presumably, a rapid drop in your inhibition, sense of propriety, and so-forth. But any perceived difference between the drunk you feel from the liquor and the drunk you feel from beer has to do with the rate at which you consumed the ethanol, not the beverage via which you consumed it.
But what about hard alcohols that are comparable in ethanol concentration, and therefore equally efficient at getting you drunk? According to the Alcohol Is Alcohol argument, 80-proof tequila should have the same effect on you as 80-proof vodka, rum, gin or whiskey. Yet we all know someone who insists that tequila makes them wild, that whiskey makes them angry, or that gin makes them sad. Why is that?

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