Have you ever felt a little anxious or low, and decided that a beer or a glass of wine would help? If so, you’re hardly alone. This exact thought process must play across the country every night of the week. There’s been surprisingly little solid research, though, into whether alcohol does actually relieve these negative feelings. Now new work led by Andrea M Wycoff at the University of Missouri-Columbia, US, concludes that in fact, it does not — and that people who “drink to cope” can even make their symptoms worse.
Here in the UK, one in five hospital admissions is the result of heavy drinking. Those who drink to the extent of needing medical assistance, as well as those who are caused problems by their own alcohol consumption, are known as harmful drinkers. This group is characterised not only by their high levels of alcohol consumption, but a surprisingly low level of problem recognition. Generally speaking, harmful drinkers are known for being resistant to seeing that they have an issue with drinking, often to avoid being labelled as an alcoholic, which comes with a huge amount of stigma. This phenomenon is part of what gave rise to the well-known phrase “I can stop anytime I want”.
However, this creates a significant barrier to treatment. “If there’s no problem, what’s there to fix?“
Researcher James Morris, alongside colleagues from London Southbank University and Northumbria University, believe that this kind of label avoidance is a prime target that psychologists can exploit to increase uptake of treatment in harmful drinkers. Their new study in Addictive Behaviors suggests that the solution may be as simple as reframing the issue.
Gambling is big business in the UK. According to NHS Digital, 57% of men and 54% of women reported gambling in 2018, while the Gambling Commission suggests that online gambling grew by 8.1% from 2019 to 2020.
During the pandemic, gambling changed quite significantly: while consumers could still buy scratchcards and lottery tickets in supermarkets and off licenses, betting shops were closed and sports matches cancelled, leading many activities to move entirely online. And according to a new study from researchers at the University of Bristol, although the British public gambled less overall during lockdown, among regular gamblers, rates of online gambling increased substantially.
Drinking culture is a huge part of university, with Freshers’ Week events often revolving near-exclusively around getting drunk. A 2018 survey from the National Union of Students found that 76% of respondents feel an expectation for students to “drink to get drunk”; 79% agreed that “drinking and getting drunk” is a key part of university culture.
This isn’t for everyone, however: a quick search of student forums will show many young people, pre-university, anxious about a drinking culture they don’t want to participate in. Now a new study in the British Journal of Health Psychology, authored by Dominic Conroy from the University of East London and team, has taken a closer look at students’ decisions to reduce their alcohol consumption — and what prevents them from doing so.
Recent years have seen the government take measures to try and limit people’s consumption of sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods. Take the so-called “sugar tax” placed on soft drinks, for instance, or the proposal to ban adverts for junk food before the 9pm watershed.
Some psychologists hope that small changes in design can also help “nudge” people into healthier behaviours. For example, a study from last year found that the order in which drinks are presented on the McDonald’s menu could encourage people to choose the sugar-free options more often.
Now a new paper in Scientific Reports suggests that the shape of a glass could also subtly influence people’s drinking behaviours.
Having a bit of a fuzzy memory is not an uncommon side effect of having had too much to drink the night before — and the details we do remember are often somewhat limited. The same can also be true for our attention when drunk: we’re only able to concentrate on what’s going on in front of us and not what’s happening elsewhere.
This phenomenon has been termed “alcohol myopia”: attentional shortsightedness related to alcohol consumption. A new paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests this shortsightedness may apply to human faces, too — and that it could have an impact on how well people can identify perpetrators of crimes they witness while drunk.
The last time you and your class-mates or co-workers pulled an all-nighter before a deadline, you may have noticed:there are always those lucky individuals who seem to do just fine after a lack of sleep, while others feel drowsy and confused – almost like they had too much to drink.
New research conducted at the German Aerospace Center suggests this could be because alcohol intoxication and sleep deprivation are more similar than we once thought.
In their study published recently in PNAS, Eva-Maria Elmenhorst and David Elmenhorst and their colleagues show how both affect us via a shared mechanism. And what’s more, if you’re sensitive to one, you’re likely to cope poorly with the other as well.
Alcohol is not exactly known for its brain-boosting properties. In fact, it impairs all kinds of cognitive functioning, including working memory and the ability to ignore distractions. So it really should make it harder for someone to speak in a foreign language.
However, as Fritz Renner of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and colleagues, point out in a new paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “contrary to what would be expected based on theory, it is a widely held belief among bilingual speakers that alcohol consumption improves foreign language fluency, as is evident in anecdotal evidence from numerous discussions in social and popular media.” And in welcome news for holiday drinkers (not to mention language students) everywhere, it turns out that, at least at moderate levels, this belief seems to be right.
I confess, I’ve tried having an alcoholic drink before giving a public speech, telling myself that it will take the edge off my nerves. But I’m going to think twice before doing so again: a new study in Behaviour Research and Therapy carefully monitored the effects of moderate alcohol intake on the speech-giving performance of socially anxious and control participants and while the alcohol made the nervous folk feel more relaxed, it actually harmed their performance.
Academically successful children are more likely to drink alcohol and smoke cannabis in their teenage years than their less academic peers. That’s according to a study of over 6000 young people in England published recently in BMJ Open by researchers at UCL. While the results may sound surprising, they shouldn’t be. The finding is in fact consistent with earlier research that showed a relationship between higher childhood IQ and the use in adolescence of a wide range of illegal drugs.