If you’re anything like me, and I think most of the people out there reading this blog probably are, you can’t help but throw out a silent fist pump every time you hear something about how drinking alcohol is good for you. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to back up these common claims.
As one of my favorite t-shirts informs the world, beer is food. There are small percentages of vitamins in beer and significant proportions of trace metals and minerals. And while wine lacks both of these characteristics, the juice of the Gods provides a lot more antioxidants than its mere mortal cousin.
What’s more, studies have shown that alcohol has a negative correlation with rates of coronary heart disease and hypertension. It could be affecting these conditions directly by increasing levels of HDL, the good cholesterol that removes the shitty kind of cholesterol from our tissues, or it could be due to decreased platelet aggregation and coagulation. Or it could have indirect effects by modifying the way we approach the rest of our diet.
Whatever the cause, the connection is a well-studied fact.
And whether wine, beer, or distilled spirits, all alcohol provides energy for our body to function on. When consumed as a small percentage of total calories, the energy stored in booze contributes to our energy levels in roughly the same way as fat or carbohydrates, with about 75 percent of its calories available to fuel our daily lives.
In case you’re wondering, three ounces of alcohol equates to 12 pats of butter or one-half cup of sugar. If my math is right, that’s about a sixer of light beer per everything else I just mentioned.
There is, however, a key word in all of these alcohol health benefits – moderate consumption. There’s plenty of research out there too about the perils of alcohol. Drinking in excess is causally related to more than 60 different medical conditions, responsible for 4 percent of global burden of disease, and results in as many deaths and disabilities as tobacco and hypertension.
But health affects aren’t the only reason you should consider drinking in moderation on a regular basis.
Everybody knows that you’re the smartest person in the world while intoxicated by alcohol. Putting together a fast plate of nachos with everything left in your refrigerator? Brilliant! Getting that one person who doesn’t drink on religious or sobriety grounds to make a run to Taco Bell? The best idea of the century! Using beer instead of milk on your Cheerios for a late night snack?
Okay, so there is obviously a limit to how much alcohol one can imbibe while retaining the genius level IQ. Luckily, we now know where that threshold lives.
According to recent research out of the University of Illinois at Chicago, having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of about .075 makes people better at creative problem solving. That’s why Beethoven, Poe, Hemmingway, and advertising agencies everywhere have and continue to keep their buzzes on while doing their creative work.
There’s a few theories as to why this is. Getting drunk makes people worse at memorizing a single sequential list of things, but it doesn’t seem to do anything to their ability to memorize simultaneous lists. It affects the region of our brains responsible for executive function – the ability to pay attention. But of course, this only hinders our analytical processes of problem solving. If you want that “Aha!” moment, you’re better off letting your mind wander.
And what’s better than letting your mind wander than a good buzz?
In the recent study, researchers brought in 40 male social drinkers between the ages of 21 and 30 via an ad on Craigslist. (Yet another reason to check the random ads on a regular basis.) They ran all of them through a series of tests designed to measure their capacity of working memory while sober. They split them into equal groups making sure that people on either side scored roughly the same as each other. Next, they made one of the intellectually equivalent groups drink vodka cranberries until their BACs got in the neighborhood of .075. Note that the choice of drink probably would have excluded yours truly from signing up.
They then gave them a common creative problem-solving task to complete called a Remote Association Test, or RAT test for short. The gist is that each trial consists of three separate words, and the participant has to come up with a single fourth word that can be combined with each of the original three to form a phrase. For example, if I were to give you shopping, punching, and douche, one correct answer would be bag (punching bag, shopping bag, douchebag). The ability to form remote associations is important in these games, as is the ability to overcome fixations on early incorrect guesses.
As you might have guessed by now, the guys who had downed some girly drinks performed better on the tests. Not only did they get more of them correct – 58 percent versus 42 percent success rates – they figured them out an average of four seconds faster.
What’s more, the drunks were more likely to attribute their success to a sudden insight instead of a linear process of cognitive reasoning. This lends credit to the theory of alcohol allowing the brain to wander and create unlikely associations between thoughts and ideas.
So what are you waiting for? How about a nice imperial stout for lunch?
The paper, “Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving,” was published in Consciousness and Cognition by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Andrew Jarosz, Gregory Colflesh, and Jennifer Wiley, all of the Department of Psychology.