Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Taste Great, Less Swilling

Switching to a strange brew may reduce the tolerance the body builds up.

If you figured that intoxication was a simple biochemical equation—ethanol plus brain cells equals inebriation—think again. It turns out that switching from the usual beer to a more exotic brew may heighten alcohol's mind-altering effects. Psychologist Bob Remington, Ph.D., served alcohol to volunteers: the familiar beer or the novel peppermint-flavored concoction. Although each study participant consumed the same amount of alcohol at the same pace, those who drank the unfamiliar beverage felt more intoxicated and showed greater mental impairment than their beer-swilling counterparts.

Why would booze's inebriating effects depend on its flavor and appearance? Previous research has shown that heroin addicts build tolerance to the drug, but it depends in part on where they shoot up. Just as Pavlov's dogs learned to associate a ringing bell with food, an addict associates his reaction to heroin with the setting in which the drug is used. Change the environment and addicts lose some of their tolerance to the drug, which is why a dose that provides the desired high in a familiar setting can become deadly in new surroundings. Likewise, the familiar sight and taste of a frequently consumed alcoholic drink becomes part of how we experience drunkenness. Switching to a strange brew may reduce the tolerance our body has built up to the alcohol.