Why do humans like to get drunk?

Here’s an article I wrote for The Guardian a few weeks ago. This link will take you right there. And while you’re there, check out some of its neighbours in The Guardian’s Autocomplete series. These articles try to provide quick, neat answers to the deep questions we often pose to Google. Or, in their words:

Every day, millions of internet users ask Google some of life’s most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the most common queries.

I  especially like David Shariatmadari’s piece on depression. And another that might be of interest is David Nutt’s attempt to answer the question Why are drugs illegal?

This reposting is an easy way out of sitting at my desk and pounding out something original. Instead of being productive, I’m supposed to lie on my back on the sofa, which sounds very appealing, because…

I just went to Geneva to attend a conference on Behavioral Addictions. But something very painful happened to my hip soon after I arrived. No, it’s not serious…according to the X-rays and CT scan, but to find that out I spent roughly 15 hours in a hospital in Geneva, moaning, squirming, with a bit of writhing thrown in. The best part of the story has something to do with the irony of lying on a cot, pleading for more morphine, while skipping these cutting-edge talks on addiction. More on that next week.

Sofa, here I come.

30 thoughts on “Why do humans like to get drunk?

  1. matt March 19, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    Hey, Marc

    Make sure that sofa’s firm, or you might be better off on the floor. But then you have to get up off the floor, which can be a chore when impaired and inhibited by booze or physical injury and pain…

    Speaking of booze, that’s a great article. It captures the reasons for the cognitive, neurological, and physical dissonance. I wonder if you could explain the reason that everyone lies when they become dependent on alcohol (and drugs). And if they’re not lying to others, they are lying to themselves about controlling it. It just seems a little more overt or powerful with alcohol, as well as the shame that goes along with the lying and loss of control. The shame can often be the lynchpin in ego fatigue and the drive to use again.

    • matt March 19, 2016 at 7:55 pm #

      It’s always something…the back, the brain the shame…

    • Reagan March 19, 2016 at 9:00 pm #


      I think for me having spent twenty six years in active drug and alcohol addiction and making it through a most recent relapse which spit me out a thousand miles an hour directly into some of the questions that you have posed but deeper and more psychology based. I have begun what I deem a book about my experiences not so much intended for an audience but to gain the answers that float.. Society frowns upon this type of behavior-drugs and abuse of alcohol but yet addiction is almost in every home and in many cases being hidden in the form of denial and closets. Matt, people want to feel valued regardless of the “choices” they make in their journey called life. I kept my addiction a secret because when I would try and talk to others about it they would look down at their shoes and shuffle imaginary dirt-they just don’t want to know. For me, I was suffering and I wanted everyone to suffer too and my decision to use drugs and alcohol as my crutch was the only voice that I felt could speak the anger, abuse, and frustration, and rage I felt. Lying is just a form of not knowing how to speak ones truth without fear of retaliation. Drugs become the master-one will always lose control of the wheel. What I have learned from standing with a loaded gun in my face for twenty six years in active addiction is that addiction has a voice. This voice is not the same for everyone and I think when people take the time to listen they will begin to hear the answers to the deep rooted questions that have dropped them to their knees the most. I study immensely psychology, neuroscience and any thing else I can get my hands on so as to gain a scientific understanding of my own addiction but I also know that there are places where science can not reach and so I have to rely on something deeper, more pure and abstract. Was I really lying? when I was higher than a kite on a windy spring day…Or was that my truth in that moment in my life? People die everyday to keep their truths, what makes them feel whole no matter if it is drugs or alcohol-I did not know then that I had a better choice to make-a higher truth to speak and now I am not afraid to tell others that I spent half of my life in ruins- Thank you for allowing me to share and may you find the answers that float…

      • matt March 20, 2016 at 4:40 am #

        Hi Reagan

        Thanks for such a powerful note– honest and compassionate. I like your use of the term “float”, and it seems a key term in thinking about your healing. I often feel like I’m trying to keep my head above water, and finally float over the sea of suffering that is addiction…and…well…life. I like your characterization of lying as “… just a form of not knowing how to speak ones truth without fear of retaliation.” I felt that way, too. On a more primal level I think it may have been my mid-brain hijacking my forebrain to protect my addiction, the coping mechanism that helped— until it didn’t anymore…

        • Reagan March 20, 2016 at 3:05 pm #


          With a twinge of what some may deem “insanity” I feel that addiction has been the greatest gift in my life. Sure, I was the scum of the earth at times and I also shined as bright as I could regardless of the situations and still I, too, was like you maybe wanting the quick fix but from my experience that isn’t really the work that one needs to do in order to find their way up and out. Matt, maybe, just maybe instead of fighting the waves and the undertow-sink. Go down into the waters that the life of addiction has become because too often we fight so hard to stay a float that we exhaust ourselves beyond repair sometimes. I spent many years in and out of drug induced psychosis and I know the depth of madness and all consuming stench of hell and I thought that I would die here-many times and that mad me angry and very sad because more than anything I did not want to die but just did not know how to live. I wrote in a journal of sorts t about how I was suffering to live- This was all I knew since childhood was suffering but I have learned that this suffering through the weathering of addiction that somewhere underneath all of the rubble there is a diamond that has been carved just waiting for me to discover. I am grateful for your experience in addiction although, I do to my bones know-the pain, and the shame and I also know that when one decides “this is it” the Universe arrives with more assistance than one could muster on their own. I will share with you a quote of mine maybe you can use it… “Your future self-the world that transpires, unfolds, and is born-walks all worlds to bring you a message of hope, strength, courage, and voice; do not be afraid.” Life, Matt, is alive and so are you! Thanks for sharing your life with me on this planet called Earth.

          • matt March 20, 2016 at 8:28 pm #

            Thanks, Reagan and thank you for your quote.

            When we get out the other side of this thing we’re calling addiction, we learn something about ourselves that people who haven’t gone through this will ever know. Some deep things about who we are, what’s important, how we can persevere, how to feel genuine happiness.

            I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful for waking up in my own vomit, for being an inconsiderate, caustic clown, for waking up out of a methadone/vodka-induced coma and insisting I’d had nothing to drink. I’m grateful because it made me who I am today (not that I’d recommend it as a road to self-realization;) Delusion may dawn as wisdom…

          • Carlton April 4, 2016 at 8:17 am #

            Regan, you wrote:

            “This was all I knew since childhood was suffering but I have learned that this suffering through the weathering of addiction that somewhere underneath all of the rubble there is a diamond that has been carved just waiting for me to discover.”

            and Matt wrote:

            “I’m grateful because it made me who I am today (not that I’d recommend it as a road to self-realization;) ”

            There are also more and more people conveying there types of realizations during there experience with addiction and recovery, (including myself).

            If this there are patterns similar to this in other walks of life, it may point to an initial impetus of addiction and a new definition of addiction and recovery.

            • Reagan April 6, 2016 at 8:34 pm #


              I jumped on this blog after sitting in front of my computer writing my own thoughts down about addiction and other stuff because I wanted to pose a question to someone about something I am struggling with lately. Before coming across any literature or blogs such as these I have had a profound sense of there is something else to addiction. Not dis-ease or a “bad brain” and I have begun searching for answers to my own staggering questions sometimes. Yes, I do believe there are a great many people having these brilliant realizations for themselves especially about their own addiction. And it interesting because it truly does mean something-collectively and I am so curious to see what transpires. I will tell anyone that listens “addiction is a gift” even though one may not agree due to their own struggles and experiences but ultimately it does bring one to a new place of discover. Exploration of ones addiction through contemplative and compassionate reflection it can reveal, at least this is my opinion, something evolutionary within ones own existence. I feel at odds with myself these days due to this type of “magical thinking” but intuitively it feels right-I just cannot put my finger on it. I am currently reading Marc Lewis’s book the biology of desire and The unbroken brain by Maia Szalavitz which both offer fantastic view points that have allowed me to somewhat feel better. Carlton, So I will pose my question to you and maybe you have something to offer or maybe not and that is okay. I have been currently attending NA meetings and I currently have a sponsor but I feel like my skin is being pulled off in some of the meetings-I do not walk away with a sense that this is my saving grace. I question my motives/intentions and my feelings of obligation as to why I go. Is this old behavior cropping up? I find strength in my own road to recovery through other means and I feel like my distaste as to some of the jargon in the literature and my own beliefs are causing a huge divide within myself. Maybe you have some input-..Thank you for allowing me to share.

              • Pauline WongFelix June 10, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

                I am a nurse who does behavioral health. I love all my patients. I never judged them. They come from all walks of life. The most important factor in us humans is “LOVE” when we do not see LOVE, we do not know how to value it, science can only trace so far what mysteries that lie behind all that is happening in this universe. When you are able to give love, you will understand that addiction cause pain not only to yourself but to others who love. Genetically we might not have the same genes but we are all alike in many ways. We panic, we get anxious, depressed because we are bound by society who judge. If we offer Love instead of judging, how easy it will be for addiction to be erased from everyone. We are born with a life that everyone of us look forward to, but due to circumstances that happen to mar it, we have to escape that pain, but the pain is not single solitary pain on you, it also affects others. Open communication of feelings, be responsible for your own actions that you will work things out. It can be painful, but do we want a long-term pain or do we want short-term pain where open communication can build bridges, open up new worlds that can benefit humanity? I do not term to know all the answers but spirituality plays a big part in knowing your true self, your inherent virtues inside of all of us. We all have virtues that we are not aware of, bring it out in a person with addiction, you will be amazed at the revelations! I remain yours, the ever caring, loving nurse who is always here for anyone in need.

                • Marc June 14, 2016 at 6:15 am #

                  Thanks for this heartfelt plea. You are in good company. Many of us in this community see connection and compassion as the best tools for overcoming addiction.

    • Geri Beveridge March 19, 2016 at 9:11 pm #


      I am trying to take some steps to break the cycle of alcohol abuse and am interested in your opinion on Naltrexone. My doctor had not prescribed it (when I introduced it as a tool) and seemed reluctant to explore it. Would you recommend a program like SMART Recovery as a beginning step?

      • matt March 20, 2016 at 5:17 am #

        Hi Geri

        I’ll let Marc answer this, but I wanted to share some observations. I have seen naltrexone turn the corner for people who were really trying, but struggling with urges. It was the final piece of the puzzle. For me, it did nothing. But I was also one of those people who game the system. That was my MO. In that case, the Vivitrol injection may work better. No pills to worry about, and it lasts a month. Talk with your doctor about it if you’re struggling. It’s worth a try.

        SMART Recovery uses an open discussion and problem solving approach, so you could raise the issue and possibly get feedback from people who’ve had some experience with it.

    • heather March 24, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

      I think we start off lying to ourselves, because if we admit the truth we have to do something about it, or take responsibility. We lie to others because we are scared of the fallout. The shame is part of it. But there is also the fact that the people we tell might try to help, and we are not sure we want their help. Marc described well the fact that we use substances to relieve stress, but the addiction causes us more stress and shame. To admit the truth means that something has to change, or that we choose addiction over life. Once you decide you want to live more than you want to drink you can start to let it go. Once you have let it go for a comfortable period of time, you can tell people the truth because the shame has gone, and the change has begun.

      • matt March 26, 2016 at 3:38 am #

        It’s true that the biggest trick to this is getting enough time. Time for things to rewire, heal, and maybe even love yourself again.
        “…people we tell might try to help, and we are not sure we want their help.” Is it that we aren’t sure we want their help, or that we don’t feel we deserve it?

        • heather March 28, 2016 at 5:07 pm #

          That may be it for some people. Self-esteem certainly suffers through addiction. For me, I think it was more wanting to do it my way and do it myself, preferably without anyone knowing because of the shame. However, if I’d stumbled across a like-minded person who wanted to help I think I would have appreciated it. Instead I found books by like-minded people and self-hypnosis.

    • Marc March 26, 2016 at 4:08 am #

      Hi Matt. (I’m back in the saddle) I think the answer is simply shame. Addiction and shame are incredibly close cousins, as you know, and that’s why we lie. The people who want to call addiction a disease claim that this will reduce stigma: he’s got a disease, it’s not his fault. I don’t think so. I spent the last two days at a methadone clinic in Belgium, and the MD there was my host. He agrees that calling it a disease really just solidifies the shame….as with people who have AIDS. Now it’s really beyond control.

      With alcohol, I’d imagine that we lie more easily because drinking a little alcohol is not considered a bad thing. Shooting a little heroin..not quite the same. So we say we drank a little, or will drink a little, and instead we drink a lot. Or…I have three drinks a night (I tell my doctor)….but you wouldn’t believe the size of those drinks. Lying about alcohol is easier because it’s such a slippery slope.

      • matt March 26, 2016 at 6:01 am #

        Yes. Guilt is about something we did, shame is about who we are. Or think we are. When we lose control and are ashamed of it, it just stokes the self-loathing, leading to the “f-its”, and giving in again.

        Everybody lies about their addiction. It’s a constant. Yet we’re not liars, except about this. That leads to shame, that leads to giving up, that leads to using…Wash, rinse, repeat.

        Our brain is messing with our mind.

      • heather March 28, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

        To use the jargon of the day, if you are in the grips of an addiction you are not being your authentic self and it’s hard to be happy and proud of yourself when you are not being your authentic self. But you can confuse your authentic self with your former self. A light bulb moment for me was realising that all your experiences change you irrevocably. I can no longer go back to being the person I was before my addiction, any more than I can get back my virginity. But, as Matt says, being grateful for the experience because it made you who you are, and loving the person you have become, are really important if you are going to stay happy and not return to addiction.

  2. gb March 20, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

    Could you please remove the full name above for Geri Beveridge

  3. Carlton March 22, 2016 at 8:47 am #

    For some people, the process of breaking the mold of addiction can be helped by reversing things to re-gain a point-of-view that has temporarily been eclipsed by the addiction.

    For instance, If you reverse the question here, it reads something like:

    Why isn’t everyone an alcoholic or addict?

    Since pleasure and the pursuit of happiness, is a common, universal human thing, this should logically be the case.

    Some people in the recovery field would say everyone is addicted, but that may not be helpful for those people that want to break from a debilitating one and re-align their lives.

    Here are a few similar reversed-questions to also help break the mold of addiction.

    People love amusement parks, so why is there not recovery groups for people that feel compelled to stay 24-7?

    When there is horrendous stress do to things like kidnappings, hostage taking, etc..why do not ALL these people immediately turn to drugs and alcohol due to the stress, and then remain hopeless alcoholics or addicts from then on? (yes, some do, but why not all, or the majority at least?)

    There were a few recovery meetings where reversed questions and resulting discussions occurred.

  4. Hillary Weiss March 25, 2016 at 10:52 am #

    Thank you for sharing these articles. I enjoyed reading them, they were interesting.

  5. April March 25, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

    Great post Marc. I hope you’re feeling better!

    I continued reading the Autocomplete series and read about “Have I kissed too many guys?” And now I am so glad that I am no longer a teenager!

  6. Valeria March 28, 2016 at 6:31 am #

    Really special article Marc!!! As always…
    I’d like you to explain us or to remind us of the implication of the stress system in addiction, what Koob calls ‘ the dark side of addiction’. ò
    I wish you got better soonò

  7. Valeria March 28, 2016 at 6:33 am #

    Really special article Marc!!! As always…
    I’d like you to explain us or to remind us of the implication of the stress system in addiction, what Koob calls ‘ the dark side of addiction’.

    I wish you got better soon

  8. Terry Ravary April 22, 2016 at 9:34 pm #

    So telling me that its the stress system that makes us want to get drunk??

  9. Psych Nairo May 28, 2016 at 6:03 am #

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Sadly, that catch 22 you describe goes on and on in a loop and the person addicted does not know how to get out of the loop an dit starts being the norm. Great article!

  10. Chris June 7, 2016 at 3:52 am #

    I kept my addiction a secret because when I would try and talk to others about it they would look down at their shoes and shuffle imaginary dirt-they just don’t want to know

  11. Kimani June 13, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

    Its quite true the shame can often be the lynchpin in ego fatigue and the drive to use again.

  12. rash May 25, 2018 at 3:31 am #


  13. Douglas June 22, 2018 at 5:46 am #

    very true

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