In a preceding post (‘So Much Pleasure, So Much Joy’ – Jan 18, 2013) I pointed to recent ‘scientific’ brain studies explaining the mechanisms of pleasure in alcohol. Even without these sophisticated studies, our shared beliefs and rituals have already taught us that alcohol intoxication provides fantastically pleasant feelings. But we now have impressive science to confirm this is not a ‘myth’ but real pleasure – a biological, biochemical, basic brain buzz.
I suggested we may do well to conduct our own studies. I have done so for years now. The original stimulus for these was reading stuff written by a Norwegian psychiatrist, Hans Olav Fekjaer, in the last millennium. His review of the science about brain pleasure suggested that I should question my assumptions and faith in wonderful alcohol effects. My experience until then was nearly 100% in favour of the idea that alcohol provided that beautiful biochemical buzz. And every drinking occasion seemed to confirm the fact. Even after reading Fekjaer’s critical reviews of evidence, my subjective perception or experience did not change. Or rather, it did not change for quite some time. The series of incremental discoveries, after the initial lull, was stimulating indeed.
I was hoping I’d manage, through that previous post, to induce at least one or two people to embark on the voyage of personal scientific enquiry. So far, I have no indication that I succeeded. I shall therefore set out some of the findings of my own enquiries, begun in the previous century. The main question was whether I was enjoying alcohol as a kind of ‘placebo’. (By placebo I mean the ability of even ‘sugar pills’ – when suitably dressed up – to have impressive effects on patients who think they are taking ‘real’ medicine.) The factors underlying fun and pleasure in alcohol are far more complex than the placebo pill effect.
One result of my own experiments so far: alcohol in small or moderate amounts is, at best, boring. But company of people consuming small or moderate amounts is pretty good fun. Alcohol in larger amounts is decidedly unpleasant. And company of people consuming large amounts is, at best, utterly boring – and most of the time too unpleasant to endure.
My individual discovery may be at variance with the experience of most of the alcohol consuming population. And it clearly clashes with recent, technically advanced experiments that show brains lighting up with pleasure when exposed to alcohol in the right concentrations. Should I conclude that my experimental methods were flawed and have led me to wrong conclusions?