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Does A Drunk Mind Speak A Sober Heart? Not Exactly

Folk wisdom for thousands of years has told us that alcohol is a type of truth serum. That what soberness conceals, drunkenness reveals. That in vino veritas: in wine, there is truth. But does a drunk mind speak a sober heart? Was the folk wisdom right all along, or could there be other factors at play that influence what you or your loved ones say while they’ve been drinking?

Alcohol as a Truth Serum

It’s no surprise that people have long associated alcohol with truth-telling. For one, alcohol has been entrenched in the culture of countless traditions for as long as written history – and picked up countless myths, half-truths, and tall tales along the way. 

But such wisdom cannot simply be dismissed. As anyone who’s had more than their share of drinks on occasion knows, it’s all too easy to find yourself saying things you’d never say sober, and wondering after the fact if it was the alcohol talking or a deeply held belief of your own.

I’ve had more than my share of such events myself. Among countless other drunken confessions, I’ve:

  • Repeatedly texted an ex to try getting back together.
  • Told a stranger that I was a famous erotic dancer.
  • Told off a coworker for not pulling their weight.
  • Confessed my love to my best friend.
  • Assured an acquaintance that I would definitely be signing up as an Herbalife salesman.

Some of these, of course, were true. I was heartbroken and wanted to get back together with the ex. My coworker really was slacking off at work. But I’m no dancer, I never had a romantic thought about my friend prior to my confession or in the days afterwards, and I certainly never sought a career in multilevel marketing supplement sales.

As a matter of practical experience, drinking simply made me more likely to say anything. Sometimes I said what I felt all along, and maybe I wouldn’t have said anything if I was sober. Frequently I said what I felt in the moment, only to realize upon sobering up that it wasn’t my true feelings at all. And sometimes I lied, either to hurt somebody, to have a laugh, or to cover up my mistakes.

A drunk woman holds a shot glass and stares at the camera
Does a drunk mind speak a sober heart?

The Science: How Alcohol Changes the Way You Interact

There’s a simple reason why so many people think of alcohol as a truth serum. Among a number of other effects, alcohol is well known to lower your inhibitions, leading people to say things you wouldn’t normally say, do things you wouldn’t normally do, or take risks that you wouldn’t otherwise take.

While this might seem like a recipe for truth telling, other effects contribute to how alcohol changes the way people speak and interact as well. Being under the influence causes a cascade of changes throughout the brain, often leading to a significant personality shift – making people more extroverted, more prone to anger, and less concerned about the consequences of their actions.

And when people develop an alcohol use disorder, they can even develop lasting brain changes that interfere with their ability to make sound judgments, regulate their emotions, and have difficulty retaining new information. These brain changes aren’t permanent – given enough time in sobriety, most people’s brains will heal from these changes – but they have a dramatic impact in the way you feel, think, and behave while living with an alcohol addiction.

Does a Drunk Mind Speak a Sober Heart?

What the science of alcohol use makes clear is that what somebody says while drunk cannot be interpreted as what they truly feel while sober. A drunk mind doesn’t speak a sober heart – it speaks a drunk heart. And there is substantial evidence that a drunk heart is more susceptible to anger, less concerned with the consequences of their actions, and more prone to intense emotions than when in a clear state of mind.

Of course, alcohol doesn’t prohibit people from speaking their truth, and some people may find the courage to say what they’ve felt all along while under alcohol’s effects. But they are also more likely to speak the feelings they have that are driven by their intoxication, making alcohol a poor and ineffective truth serum at best.

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Accountability for the Alcoholic

Most people searching for “does a drunk mind speak a sober heart” are here for one of two reasons:

  1. They’ve said something hurtful while drunk and are wondering if it’s what they truly feel.
  2. They’ve been hurt by a friend, partner, or family member who said something while under the influence.

Regardless of whether the words were true to their sober feelings or not, hurtful words cannot simply be written off due to alcohol. “I didn’t mean the things I said when I was drunk” doesn’t stop them from being hurtful.

If you’re damaging your personal relationships because of your drinking and cannot cut down or stop drinking as a result, it’s a sign of an alcohol use disorder. And while addiction isn’t a choice, you can choose recovery. There are dozens of evidence-based pathways to overcoming addiction, and most people will achieve sobriety if they start treatment, reach out for help, and admit that their drinking is a problem.

Recovery isn’t always easy – but there is a pathway to a better life. You can start today by following our steps to start your path to sobriety, reaching out to a therapist for help, and learning how to flourish in your new life in recovery. 

The AUDIT Quiz

The following quiz is called the AUDIT, which is short for Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. It’s used by medical professionals to assess your risk for alcohol dependence. Curious about how your drinking habits stack up? Take the assessment.

This is not an official medical diagnosis nor is it medical advice. Rather this is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns, share your results with your doctor.

Welcome to your Alcohol Use (AUDIT) quiz

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?

A unit of alcohol is one standard drink. Examples of one standard drink include:

  • 12 oz can of beer with about 5% alcohol
  • 5 fl oz of wine (roughly 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fl oz shot of spirits like vodka, rum, or whiskey (about 40% alcohol)

How often have you had 6 or more units if female, or 8 or more if male, on a single occasion in the last year?

How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?

How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?

How often during the last year have you needed an alcoholic drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?

How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?

How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?

Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?

Has a relative or friend or a doctor or another health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?

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