What The Drunk?
On any given night of the week scarfies and their friends go out to play, and nine times out of ten their sport of choice is drinking. Getting booze is easy, and getting drunk is even easier. But why does alcohol make us feel so good (and then oh-so-bad)? And what is it actually doing to us?
Professor Jennie Connor, the HOD for Preventive and Social Medicine at Otago, researches the health effects of alcohol and the impact of alcohol on sexual behaviour. She says it’s all about our BAC, or Blood Alcohol Concentration. “Alcohol crosses the ‘blood-brain barrier’ very quickly and has a direct toxic effect on the brain, which causes the feelings of intoxication. How drunk you are is determined by how much alcohol is in your blood (and therefore your brain). The BAC depends on how fast you are drinking.” So the more you drink, the more alcohol is in your blood, and the more effects you begin to feel. BAC is affected by all kinds of stuff. If you’re very fat, very skinny, overly muscly, damn hungry, or female, you’re going to get drunk quicker. Alcohol sensitivity also depends on things like your ethnicity, genes and how good your liver is, as well as how often you drink.
Basically, your liver can only break down so much alcohol per hour. That’s where the wee standard drink pictures on your can of Cindy’s come in: the liver needs one hour to break down every standard drink. Your BAC rises when you drink more than your liver can handle. Alcohol is a poison. Since your body can only process so much poison per hour, the more alcohol you put in, the more poisoned you become.
But regardless of how quickly you get drunk, we all know what happens when that BAC starts to creep up. Your Scarfie Alter Egos arrive and begin to cause trouble.
Too Much Information ScarfieThough a game of “I have never” might be a great way to break down some social barriers, you may not be so happy the next day that you told everyone in the Cook that you pissed your bed until you were 12-years old. But as you start getting drunk, you start to share too much information. Professor Connor says that when your BAC gets between 10 — 50 micrograms per 100ml of blood, you start to feel relaxed and good about yourself. You’re also going to lose your inhibitions. Where’s The Line, an online tool used to train bartenders to identify the different stages of intoxication, describes this as the “happy phase”. Apparently this loss of inhibitions is “what people are striving for as they take those first drinks.” But as your BAC starts creeping up over 60, and “I Have Never” turns into an all-out see-who-can-tell-the-grossest-story session, you’re already well equipped for a next-day “holy shit did I actually say that” moral hangover.
For some people, this one is a whole lot of fun. Nothing is sexier than a sloppy-drunk girl hitching up her boob tube while gyrating into some dude’s crotch, or some wasted guy getting all up in your grill. At this point, Connor says your BAC is hitting 60-100, and you’re feeling pleasure, a numbing of feelings, and experiencing a little less coordination than usual. You don’t care what anyone thinks, you’re going to dance like the sexy minx you are and NO ONE will be able to resist you.
This is the point where you’re feeling drunk, but good drunk, and it’s usually the ideal level to stay at. But soon you’re probably not going to notice if everyone is having a good old laugh at your expense. Especially if your drunken dance moves aren’t appreciated by the girlfriend of that guy you’re grinding on.
Moneybags Scarfie“Me? Drunk? Never! Let’s get some shots… oh you’ve got no money? All good, I’ll shout you one bro.” After our feelings go a bit numb and we lose a few inhibitions, out comes Moneybags Scarfie. It’s okay, you don’t need to eat this week anyway. There are two variations on this alter-ego: the one with the money who is just drunk enough to think he’s sober, and the one without their EFTPOS card and an all too well-practiced way of forgetting to pay you back (“yeah bro, my pay goes through tomorrow!”). This is usually followed by what Where’s The Line calls the “loud stage” – when the drinker “begins to enter a place when they will experience regrets the next day”. Add that to the moral hangover brought on by TMI and Slut-dance Scarfie, and you’re cooking up a nice wee toilet bowl of regret.
Best Friend Scarfie“This guy!? I LOVE this guy!” Suddenly, everyone is your best friend (probably thanks to Moneybags). According to Professor Connor, when your BAC hits the 100 mark, you’re going to experience emotional arousal, and your reasoning and depth perception are going to stumble out the window. You love everyone, even if you only met them five minutes ago. By now, you’re probably out of money, but that’s okay because you’ve got all these new friends and you’re going to be friends forever and have parties together and sure you can move into the spare room in our flat, we can even add each other on Facebook.
Bad Decision ScarfieThis is my all-time favourite alter ego, known by Where’s The Line as the “Swaying and Slurring” stage. With a BAC of anywhere from 110 (mood swings, anger, sadness, mania, and slurred speech) to 300 (aggression, depression, reduced sensations, and lack of balance), this Scarfie appears in many forms. Acts could range from swinging the first punch or texting that psycho ex to lighting a fire, getting naked at McDonalds, or taking home that gorgeous girl giving you eyes from across the bar, even though she looked like a rabid dog about three drinks ago. The Scarfie who gets lucky with this girl on a Thursday night is often lured dangerously quickly into STI-riddled, accidental pregnancy territory by statements like “it’s okay I’m on the pill”. Let’s not forget, the girl’s Bad Decision Alter Ego is probably out to play as well. Connor says that “heavy drinking increases unsafe sexual behaviour, and consequent STIs and pregnancies, as well as the emotional and psychological burden.” Not only that, but the leading cause of death in young people in New Zealand is injury, and the leading cause of injury is alcohol. Picking up a pattern here?
Coma ScarfieThe “Falling Over Drunk” stage. Once your BAC goes over 300, you’re getting into dangerous territory. Your motor skills are gone, you’re spewing your ring out, and you’re not too far away from being put to bed with a bucket and declared “coma-d”. You’re probably going to cry, wet yourself, go in and out of consciousness, and you might even go into a real coma. There is a very real risk of dying from alcohol poisoning or choking to death on your own vomit. No one wants to be that kid who had a real bright future until they drank themselves to death. It’s a shit time for your family, your mates, the doctors who tried to save you, and everyone else involved. YOLO, right? Better make sure you actually get to live.
What then?But that’s just the here-and-now effects. Professor Connor says it’s difficult for young people to fully appreciate the long-term effects of heavy drinking. “There is a perception that you drink heavily for a period of time when young and there is no effect on the rest of your life. This will be true for some people. For others there is a range of possibilities.” Connor says that people who drink heavily at Uni will often fail or drop out, and that drinking heavily when you’re young makes drinking problems in later life more likely. She also emphasises that injuries are pretty common, and sometimes people die. Just because you think it won’t happen to you doesn’t mean it won’t.
But unlike me, not everyone brings their alter-egos out to play when they’ve had a couple of drinks. There are a lot of Scarfies out there who can drink till their BAC hits about 100 and keep it there by having only one or two per hour. But for those of us with a lower tolerance, lack of self-control, or messy combination of the two, Thursday and Saturday nights are frequently followed by a morning spent telling the toilet about all the things you said or did last night. Sometimes the moral hangover is worse than the physical one. As your body tries to expel the excess poison from your system, sometimes out of more than one orifice, it’s all you can do to curl up in a ball on the bathroom floor and pray one of your new “friends” brings you some Velvet Burger. And let’s not forget those terrible moments when memories from last night resurface with a sickening jolt of realisation and shame.
Let’s face it, everyone has those nights that haunt them for days afterwards. It’s the stuff of 21st speeches, YouTube videos, and stories for the Scarfie Chronicles. The only thing more embarrassing than an old school friend telling you they “heard you had a bit of a rager the other night” even though they weren’t there is when you’re at Squiddy’s on a Monday innocently getting a scoop of chips and you’re approached by someone you’ve never seen before in your life, but they’ve met you, and did you want to catch up for that drink you promised the other night? You can only hope your old friend TMI Scarfie didn’t tell them about the chick with the herpes. Maybe it’s time you started leaving your Scarfie Alter Egos at home.