woman liquid courage

Fact or Fiction: Alcohol Makes You Braver and More Confident

There is a long-standing joke in pop culture involving a young man who is incapable of talking to women without having a drink first. The idea of liquid courage has been around for generations. Likewise, there are plenty of people who believe that alcohol makes them more courageous and confident. But does it? Or perhaps it’s just a myth.

Understanding the association between alcohol consumption and perceived courage or confidence requires a basic knowledge of how alcohol affects the brain. When you look at the science, it is clear that people are no more confident or courageous with alcohol in their systems than they are without. What is perceived as greater confidence or courage is actually something quite different: a loss of inhibition. There is a significant difference between these two states of mind.

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How Alcohol Affects the Brain

Alcohol is an intoxicating substance that affects the brain fairly quickly. In fact, its effects throughout the body begin to be felt shortly after consumption. It is absorbed through the stomach lining and heads straight to the bloodstream. It happens so fast that alcohol can reach the brain in just five minutes. Most people start feeling its ‘liquid courage’ effects within 10 minutes.

Here are the specific effects alcohol has on the brain:

  • Euphoric Feelings – Alcohol in the brain encourages the production of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasurable feelings. Shortly after consumption, a person can begin feeling euphoric.
  • Intoxication – Exposure to alcohol produces intoxicating effects in the brain. Reaction times slow, a person’s ability to judge his surroundings diminishes, and behaviours are altered. This all occurs because alcohol is interfering with the brain’s ability to process information.
  • Feelings of Excitement – As the brain struggles to process information, other parts of the brain can be encouraged to work harder to make up for it. This produces feelings of excitement in many people.
  • Sensory Inhibition – Alcohol can diminish the brain’s ability to process sensory information as well. This is why some people exhibit blurred vision, slurred speech, and balance issues.

Excess alcohol consumption in a short amount of time can lead to three serious issues: stupor, coma, and death. Once again, it is all due to alcohol inhibiting the brain from functioning properly. The worst-case scenario is a brain that is unable to maintain vital bodily functions, thereby leading to death.

Alcohol and a Loss of Inhibitions

Getting back to the main topic, the combination of euphoric feelings and intoxication is what ultimately leads to the loss of inhibitions linked with alcohol. Inhibitions protect us from danger. They encourage us to be more cautious so as to avoid being harmed.

That young man who can’t talk to women without drinking is feeling the effects of an inhibition designed to protect him from rejection. Drinking alcohol doesn’t make him more courageous. It doesn’t make him more confident. Rather, it stymies his inhibitions. His brain is no longer warning him of the realities of rejection.

This might be easier to understand if you imagine a typical pub fight involving men who are normally mild-mannered. Human beings tend to have a natural inhibition against random fighting. Fighting causes pain. It creates danger. It is bad enough that we normally try to avoid it. But get a few drinks in your system, and your willingness to fight might increase.

Again, it’s not that you’re suddenly more courageous or confident. It is that your brain is no longer able to recognize all the potential pitfalls that come with getting into a fight with complete strangers. Someone sets you off, and the fists go up.

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A Short-Lived Experience

We know from a biological standpoint that alcohol consumption doesn’t increase courage or confidence. It has been proven scientifically that what people perceive as increased confidence is simply a loss of inhibition. But let’s set the science aside for one minute and look at it from another angle.

If alcohol really did have some sort of biological effect that made people more confident and courageous, regular drinking should lead to persistent changes to that effect. But it doesn’t. Being more courageous or confident under the effects of alcohol is a short-lived experience. As soon as the alcohol wears off, the person is suddenly no longer feeling as confident or courageous.

In fact, some people swing just as much in the other direction. Not only do they lose that temporary courage and confidence, but they also dive headlong into anxiety, irritability, etc. There is a term for this: hangxiety.

Being Confident Without Alcohol

The good news in all of this is that it is possible to be more confident and courageous without using alcohol as a crutch. There is no quick fix for overnight success, but employing some key strategies over time can lead to measurable improvement.

For example, embracing mistakes as a learning opportunity can go a long way toward boosting confidence. Mistakes are part of life. Embrace them. Embrace the consequences of your mistakes as well. Moving forward, do not repeat the same mistakes over again. You will gradually become more confident as your mistakes get fewer and farther between.

Here are a few more suggestions:

  • Stop worrying about what other people think of you. You are your own person, separate from the opinions of others.
  • Make a point of encouraging yourself with positive reinforcement. Speak optimistic words instead of their pessimistic counterparts.
  • Take good care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. Overall good health goes a long way toward boosting confidence and courage.
  • Practice socialising without alcohol. Even if your friends drink, you can avoid alcohol and still have a good time. You’ll be surprised by how much confidence you gain from doing this.

Alcohol consumption making people feel more confident or courageous is a myth. In fact, the effects of alcohol on the brain are just the opposite. Rather than boosting courage and confidence, alcohol suppresses natural inhibitions. And when inhibitions are suppressed, we are more likely to do things would otherwise avoid.

Liquid courage is a mirage. The real answer lies in self-confidence and improved self-esteem. Stopping drinking your problems away and speaking to a friend or counsellor can help you gain a real and natural improvement in your confidence and courage.

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