MARCH 28, 2011 10:25AM

Drunken Confessions vs. Sober Confessions

Rate: 5 Flag

There is an interesting contradiction in the way many people construe “confessions” or expressions of emotion made under the influence of alcohol.  Negative statements are generally given far more credibility than positive statements.  The same is true of actions, but I think it is important to maintain the reasonable distinction between actions and statements. 

Negative actions often impact others in a physically threatening manner so that protection of another individual becomes necessary.  For instance, someone who more often than not becomes violent under the influence of alcohol needs to be dealt with in a way that protects others from physical injury as a result of that violence.  There are, of course, many other examples of actions aside from aggression, such as irresponsible actions, that occur while under the influence.  Actions like that must be taken seriously and addressed seriously because they threaten the well being of others. 

So, context becomes a key, I think, in assessing various situations.  I think there is a very significant difference between actions and verbal expressions of emotion.  It has occurred to me that there is an interesting double-standard applied to emotions expressed by someone who is …, well …, drunk. 

My wife and I were watching a movie and in the opening scene a college couple was leaving a nightclub.  As they exited, the man started to tell the woman that he loved her and she stopped him before he got the words out saying, “Don’t start that ‘you love me stuff again – you only say it when you’re drunk’.”  I had never really thought about it in quite this way before, and I have no idea why it suddenly struck me just in that moment, but I suddenly wondered why she thought his drunken expression of “I love you” was devoid of credibility. 

Common wisdom – in fact, scientific knowledge – says that the influence of alcohol diminishes inhibitions.  

Since the post-synaptic neuron cannot release a signal, the ability of the neurons in the frontal lobes to inhibit socially unacceptable behavior is reduced. […]  The loss of inhibitions results because the post-synaptic neurons are progressively less able to conduct an action potential and illicit a response. 

If that is so, then it seems a logical conclusion that some things said while under the influence could reasonably be considered more genuine than what is sometimes said – or not said – within the inhibited sober restraints that prevent us from expressing true emotions. 

It occurred to me that very often negative expressions while under the influence are taken seriously as true revelations of an individual’s thoughts, personality, beliefs, emotions, etc.  However, equally as often, if not more often, when someone says something like “I love you” while under the influence, they are not taken seriously; their expression of positive emotion is laughed off as some kind of joke, usually with the interjection, “You’re just drunk.”  And then when that person is sober again, he/she won’t follow up on expressing the same emotions, whether true or not, because of fear; fear of rejection, fear of inappropriateness, fear of appearing a fool, perhaps because of some personal issue, etc. 

Are we, as a culture, so overly conditioned to discredit expressions made under the influence that we miss many valid expressions of truth?


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Having been on the receiving end of drunken love utterances from a man incapable of offering them in the clarity of sobriety, I have to take the position that it means nothing. The inhibition being removed was the willingness to say what was necessary to get what he wanted, which he wouldn't do in the stark light of day.

People say a LOT when inebriated, from confessions of 'love' to admittances of weaknesses. They may even be true - in that moment. Until and unless the conscious mind admits those things, they will not serve anyone well. It's probably best not to have to get through life in a drunken state.

Thanks for kicking things off. You write:

“People say a LOT when inebriated, from confessions of 'love' to admittances of weaknesses. They may even be true - in that moment.”

I understand the sentiment, believe me. You got to the crux of my question. If it’s “true – in that moment”, is it untrue later?

If the answer is yes, then let’s consider the flip-side: how often do we say things that are untrue while sober? Or, another aspect, how often do we AVOID saying something that is true when sober because we are too inhibited to say it? How do we discern?

You write, “The inhibition being removed was the willingness to say what was necessary to get what he wanted, which he wouldn't do in the stark light of day.”

The thought occurs to me that the circumstance you describe could possibly be either, good or bad. And I’ve certainly encountered people who were willing to “…say what was necessary to get what he wanted,” even when they were sober. I wonder if the fact that they were able to do that while sober is actually even worse than doing while drunk. Just thinkin’ …
Rick - in answer to the question of how often do we say things that are untrue while sober?


My mind doesn't work in black and white either, but I can't get my brain heated up trying to figure out what people 'really' mean when they speak. I take most things at face value anymore.
I think we give more credibility to the negative precisely because we know the drunken utterances are not run through the brain's inhibitions.

When a person is sober, they most often do not say the negative out of concern for the other person's feelings. They do not say the positive because they don't want to, for their own internal reasons of fear or spite.

So, when you tell me "I love you" only when you are drunk, I sure know it and realize you don't want to say it when you are sober. You don't want to tell me something good, if you think about it. The knowledge that your brain will stop you from saying something positive to me pretty much discounts any positive from the words themselves.

When you tell me I have a fat ass only when you are drunk, I know that when you think about it, you don't want to hurt my feelings. You do think I have a fat ass, but most of the time you care about me enough to not say it out loud.

Intention is indicated far more by the sober mind, and intention often matters more than words.
Heh, Gabby,

I fully agree with your view, "...I can't get my brain heated up trying to figure out what people 'really' mean when they speak."

I guess what struck me was the knowledge that sometimes people DO want to say something positive to you when they are sober, but are TOO inhibited to say it. With that in mind, does the fact that they are drunk when they say it diminish the genuineness of the expression? I think it might not be a definitive answer of yes, but more a case-by-case situational sort of thing.
Rick - from my own personal and anecdotal experience only, I think the comments you describe follow more of a "dam-bursting" trajectory. The liquor loosens the intial inhibitions but once the thought is finally said, it can be repeated sober.

Interesting food for thought!
From personal experience I can say that the best kind of drunk (if there is such a thing) is a quiet drunk and unfortunately, I was not that kind.

Yeah, that sounds like it; and it seems that there is a sort conditioning by people to just dismiss ANYTHING expressed under the influence. I'm just not sure that's necessarily the best approach, I guess.

Yeah, you might be right about that. I had this thought when I read your comment; is there a distinction between "a drunk" and a person who is drunk?
Drunks are totally persecuted. Anything good they might say or do doesn't count - they're just fools. Anything bad the say or do is not excused by their drunkenness, rather it is magnified by it. And if they don't say or do anything particularly bad they are still considered potentially dangerous. This is why I gave it up.

Thanks for playing.

I can understand being distrustful of someone who allows drink to rule his life; that's "a drunk". But it's a mistake to assume that everyone who drinks is a drunk. But, whether "a drunk" or a person who is drunk, I think that more often than not, they are both treated equally in terms of respecting what they say.

I'm merely questioning the wisdom of that one-size-fits-all approach. BTW, I'm glad that you're glad you "gave it up".
"Are we, as a culture, so overly conditioned to discredit expressions made under the influence that we miss many valid expressions of truth?"

I'd say "yes." We do that in part because we judge addicts or anyone else who's under the influence in a puritanical fashion which is part and parcel of our culture. To the average *upstanding* memeber of our society, anything a drunk/drugged person says, whether positive or negative, is viewed through a self-righteous lens which equates not only drinking but anything pleasurable with sin. Think of the church lady from SNL asking "What made you say that? Perhaps Satan?"
Hi, nana,

Thanks for resuscitating this, even if only for a moment. I think the question I’ve asked here is actually a tough one, primarily because of the very things you cite. But I think it’s a valid question for consideration, especially when people take the negatives stated under the influence seriously and dismiss the positives. WTF???

I can honestly say that I’ve been lied to far more often by people when they were sober than when they were drunk, or high, or … I’m not, of course, defending addiction or over-indulgence, or even use on any level, just asking a question at face value. I grew up with an alcoholic father, so I’ve seen the struggles folks go through when battling addiction. But he was a guy who had difficulty expressing his feelings when sober, and the most expressions of love I ever received from him were when he was under the influence, and I did not doubt him when he expressed them.

I appreciated your response.
There was no reason to doubt him; quite the opposite in fact. As kh3333 said, people under the influence are poor liars, or rather, as you mention in the post, their inhibitions are weakened so they're more likely to say what they really feel. "In vino veritas" and all that.
I had to laugh when I clicked on your 'scientific knowledge' link. Looked like something from one of le plongeur's cut and paste jobs. The only thing missing was a WTF or OMG. Even funnier was Ms. Powell's attempt to 'illicit' a response.
whirlwind, maybe you should lay off the drink? Don't hurt yourself.