What REALLY Happens In Our Brains When We Get Drunk?

So, imagine that you go to a party at a friend’s place and “wet” your throat until it can’t get any wetter. Whoa! After a few rounds of cocktails, you’re feeling great. Hell, you feel like you could give the Hulk a run for his money if he messed with you! But wait, why are you suddenly feeling so weird? Why are words not coming out of your mouth in the intended sequence? And why the hell are you suddenly kneeling outside in the grass at the side of the house, begging for the world to stop spinning?

Getting drunk is something that humans have been doing for thousands of years. Whether voluntary or involuntary, drinking does give people a rather remarkable high. Being intoxicated takes you to a different world altogether. It gives you a feeling of euphoria and a sense of confidence, but also plenty of not-so-desirable things. The method to get drunk is simple, but perhaps you need a reminder. You take a glass of alcohol (or 5), pour it down your throat, and within minutes, you seem to transform into a new person, someone whom you hardly remember the next day. Why does that happen?

What Actually Happens When You Get Drunk?

In fact, there are many different chemicals that can get you drunk, but the most common ingredient of alcohol consumed today is Ethanol. This is a hydrocarbon, meaning that it contains atoms of carbon and hydrogen (see the picture below). It contains 2 carbon atoms (black), 6 Hydrogen atoms (red) and 1 Oxygen atom (white). See, even the structure looks cool… is it really a big surprise that people want to have a party when it’s around?

Ethanol Molecule

Ethanol Molecule (Credits:Mardre/Shutterstock)

Ethanol is readily soluble in water, so it easily dissolves in the bloodstream and gets carried to various parts of the body. The most affected areas of the body include the liver and the brain. In the brain, ethanol adversely affects Glutamate receptors, which causes slurred speech, memory loss, slow reaction to stimuli, and other common side effects of being a bit too tipsy.

Not only this, ethanol molecules bind with GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors, which is able to slow down the activity of brain. Unlike glutamate receptors, ethanol actually makes GABA receptors more receptive, causing the brain to slow down even further. However, alcohol doesn’t just act to slow everything down in the body. It also stimulates the production of dopamine and endorphins, chemicals that produce feelings of pleasure. This is the reason why people choose to get that alcohol “high”, despite knowing the negative consequences that it may lead to.

If you’re one of those show-me-how-it’s-done type people, then this video is just for you. Or we’ll see you in the local bar!


  1. Alcohol Alert – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  2. Does Drinking Alcohol Actually Kill Brain Cells? – Medical Daily
  3. What Alcohol Really Does to Your Brain – Forbes.com
  4. Alcohol – CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research) – University of Maryland
  5. About Alcohol -Villanova University Student Life
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About the Author:

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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