Let's not lie to ourselves. Drinking is fun. If you have ever spontaneously decided to dress up like a pirate on Halloween (I sure have), you know this. And a little bit of alcohol may even confer some health benefits on those who imbibe, like reducing the risk for all sorts of nasty diseases.
But if you plan to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, here are a few reasons why drinking yourself silly isn't the best way to go about it, as far as science is concerned anyway.
4) Heavy drinkers are more likely to contract STDs. According to a 2008 study of STD clinic patients published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, binge drinkers (who consume 5+ drinks in one sitting) are more likely to engage in risky sexual activity, and women are more at risk than men. The link is due, unsurprisingly, to the lowered inhibitions and impaired decision making capabilities that come with excessive alcohol consumption.
3) Speaking of people who make dumb decisions, college students may be especially susceptible to the stupefying powers of alcohol. A study also published in Alcoholism followed college students (ages 18-22) for four years and found that the heaviest drinkers among them were more likely to make impulsive decisions and engage in risky behavior.
Researchers utilized the Iowa Gambling Test (IGT), an electronic card game which measures decision making strategy, to conduct the analysis. The goal of the game is to win as much money possible by selecting the right cards. Guess whose strategy was less advantageous. According to the researchers, "There is reason to think that heavy binge drinking during adolescence, when the brain is still rapidly developing, may have some negative legacy on psychological development."
2) There are many possible mechanisms, but brain function may be inhibited by regular Pabst Blue Ribbon binges because of the way alcohol interferes with key receptors in the brain. Excessive drinking promotes the manufacture of steroids that inhibit long-term potentiation (LTP), a process that strengthens the connections between neurons and is crucial to learning and memory.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience tested this hypothesis by exposing slices of the hippocampus, where brain cells affected by alcohol are found, from rats' brains to varying amounts of alcohol. When researchers treated hippocampal cells with moderate amounts of alcohol, LTP was unaffected, but exposing the cells to large amounts of alcohol inhibited the memory formation mechanism. This may be why people forget their exploits after blacking out from a night of binge drinking.
1) But if STDs, damaged decision making ability and forgetfulness aren't reason enough to moderate alcohol consumption, maybe the classic effects of a hangover are. A clinical study involving college students and published in the journal Addiction found that binge drinking can slow your reaction time and put a damper on your mood the following day. See this video for a demonstration of some of the stated effects in progress. However, binge drinking didn't impact the students' ability to pass an exam. So it isn't all bad, I guess.
In summary, have fun if you plan to celebrate St. Patty's Day. But be safe. A little moderation never killed anybody.
Photo Credit: topalcoholdeaths