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When You’re Drunk, You’re Still Basically Yourself

We may not feel like ourselves when we’ve had one too many beers, but a new study of 156 sloshed participants suggests that our drunken demeanors may not be so different from our sober personas. Although the drunk participants reported major personality changes as they crawled under the table, trained observers noticed far fewer differences.

“This research is relevant to people who drink alcohol, people who don’t drink alcohol, people who are interested in how alcohol affects people,” coauthor Rachel Winograd of the University of Missouri, St. Louis told Fatherly. Clinically, Winograd suspects her findings could help professionals counsel problem drinkers. “An intervention focusing on developing discrepancies between a drinkers’ behavior and ideal self can gently highlight how one’s intoxicated persona may be directly related to the negative alcohol-related consequences an individual experiences,” she says.

For the study, Winograd and colleagues served vodka cocktails to volunteers and then instructed them get together in small groups and work through a series of logic puzzles and discussion questions. They then asked each participant to fill out a survey. Virtually all of the inebriated participants indicated that they felt lower levels of conscientiousness and neuroticism, but higher levels of openness to new experiences, agreeability, and extraversion.

Sounds about right.

But sober observers noticed far fewer changes before and after the drunk volunteers hit the bottle. They agreed that the drunk participants were more extraverted after a little vodka, but they didn’t notice much else. “Extraversion was the only factor robustly perceived to be different across participants in alcohol and sober conditions,” Winograd says. “We were surprised it was the only one.”

Since the study only examined Americans between the ages of 21 and 30, Winograd says the next step is to test the findings in other cultures, where drinking norms are known to be different. In the immediate future, however, she hopes that the results will influence interventions for people who are suffering from the consequences of bad drinking habits. If we’re essentially the same whether we’re drunk or sober, as the results suggest, one solution to problem drinking behaviors could be counseling individuals through their sober personality problems. “We need to see if this work is relevant in the clinical world,” Winopal says. “And help reduce any negative impact of alcohol on people’s lives.”