Twice in the past month I’ve had a straight, white, educated man (the most dangerous kind) tell me that alcohol doesn’t affect him in the same way it does other people. The first time I laughed because it’s such a ridiculous idea. The second time I got scared. Is this a commonly held belief? If it is, it would explain a lot.
Let me first explain some of the science of alcohol on the brain (assuming everyone reading this believes in science). Most people have heard that alcohol is a depressant. They've also noticed that they feel less depressed when drinking (although sometimes more the next day). This causes some understandable confusion about how alcohol affects the brain. Alcohol depresses or slows down the behavioral centers in your cerebral cortex which inhibit you. Your cerebral cortex controls how you process information coming through your senses and helps you think clearly. When these processes are slowed you are less inhibited (this is what makes you chat animatedly with the stranger in the washroom). Alcohol is depressing your inhibitory center causing you to be less inhibited (and feel great!).
Alcohol also affects neurotransmitters such as glutamate and GABA which both affect energy levels. Alcohol depresses glutamate which usually increases brain activity, making your brain a bit slow (and consequently your muscle control). Meanwhile, it increases the affects of GABA which normally calms you down, making you extra sluggish and far less alert. This is why driving (or sometimes walking) while intoxicated is dangerous.
Now, there are lots of things that will influence exactly how one behaves on alcohol—if they’ve eaten, body fat, age, sex, other medical issues, etc. But it is going to affect you in semi-predictable ways. When someone reaches the level of intoxication they are going to be slower and less inhibited. That's just science.
Back to the two men who made the silly statement that alcohol doesn’t affect them in the same way it does other people. First of all, both of these men have advanced degrees in fields related to science. There is no way to argue that they are ignorant of the way chemicals affect the brain. Which means they heard the science and said, “sure, for most people, but that science doesn’t apply to me.”
If I hadn’t been so shocked by their statements I may have replied with “yeah, gravity doesn’t affect me the same way it does other people.” That’s the level of ridiculous these statements are on.
What’s scariest about men holding these beliefs is that beliefs affect behavior. If you think alcohol isn’t going to make you uninhibited you are more likely to believe that you are acting rationally and with good judgment. What you might actually end up doing is committing sexual assault. If you think alcohol isn’t going to slow your reflexes and dull your senses you are more likely to believe you are good to drive. What you might actually end up doing is committing vehicular manslaughter.
Things men do when drunk (this is obviously not an exhaustive list):
Drive drunk: Men are more than twice as likely as women to drive drunk (quite a bit more than twice as likely).
Commit other violent crimes: “About 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking.” And we know that most violent crimes are perpetrated by men: 93% of federal inmates are men.
And there are a whole host of other things men do that aren't crimes but are despicable including catcalling, name calling, cheating, gambling, and other drugs.
As I was reading up on this topic what I found was that there were plenty of statistics about the number of victims who had been drinking when violated (almost all women). There were very few statistics on the number of perpetrators who had been drinking when they committed their crime (almost all men). But we've all heard the nonsense that women should protect themselves by not drinking. And we've all responded by suggesting that men stop drinking so they don't commit crimes. But it turns out we have to start on an even more basic level which is to convince these men that the laws of science apply to them when it comes to alcohol. These educated, straight, white men believe their privilege extends to defying the chemistry of the brain. And it's putting us all in danger.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist