Sunday, September 03, 2006

Drunken Pleasure

I got drunk yesterday. Drunker than I've been in over twenty-five years. I drink only when I go to my wife's uncle's house for some kind of party, which is only a few times a year. Yesterday, it was the grandson's second birthday. Uncle George was pouring straight Johnnie Walker scotch and Patron tequilla into our drinking and shot glasses as fast as we could drink it, which was way faster than it should have been. Three hours and umpteen ounces of hard liquor later, I could barely walk to the car.

Fortunately, my wife, who doesn't drink, always drives home from these affairs. I would certainly never drive in that condition. It amazes me that some people do drive that way and sometimes don't even seem to realize that they're grossly compromised and pose a serious danger to themselves and others on the road.

When I'm drunk, I know that I'm drunk. In fact, I monitor my thoughts, emotions, and motions very closely, comparing them to my sober state, and try hard not to appear drunk. I don't talk much, but I love to listen to other people talk about anything and everything. I'm happy when I'm drunk and feel closer to people. Yet, as much as I enjoy the feeling, I don't want to indulge it very often. I doubt that I'll ever let myself indulge it again as much as I did yesterday. Yesterday, I wanted to take it to the limit and see how I felt then and afterward. I stopped drinking when I felt myself at my limit. I didn't feel very good for a few hours this morning, but I didn't have the kind of severe hangover I used to have in college after a long night of drinking the cheap stuff. Yet it was still unpleasant enough that I don't want to repeat it.

I've often heard and read that alcohol kills brain cells. If that's true, I shouldn't drink anymore. I don't have any extra brain cells to spare. But as I thought about that this morning, a question occurred to me that I don't think ever has before. Why does getting drunk kill only a few brain cells and not most or all of them? If the alcohol we drink goes to the brain and affects enough of our brain cells to invoke huge changes in the way we think, feel, and act, it must affect a lot of cells. Why does it kill only some rather than most or all of them? Or is this business about it killing brain cells a myth? If not, how do scientists know that drinking kills brain cells and how many it kills?

I asked myself another question yesterday, in the warm glow of my intoxication. Why do some people consistently feel and act happy when they're drunk, whereas others consistently feel and act angry and hateful? I thought of Mel Gibson's recent DUI arrest and contrasted that with how I would have behaved. Of course, I wouldn't have been driving in the first place. But if I had been and the police stopped me, I would have been extremely cooperative and profoundly apologetic for endangering myself and others that way, and I would have felt grateful that the police stopped me before I killed or maimed anyone.

Why the difference in attitudes? Alcohol is said to remove inhibitions. Do nasty drunks act nasty because alcohol lets them show their true nastiness, and happy drunks act happy because they really are and alcohol lets them express their happiness more freely? If so, I guess I'm a pretty happy person at heart. I just want to be able to feel and express it more without the assistance of alcohol.

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