We’ve all done it. To varying degrees of embarrassment, hilarity or horror, we have all had one too many glasses of Pinot Grigio and subsequently picked up our phones to say something we maybe shouldn’t to someone we maybe have feelings for. Which leads us to the inevitable morning-after question of, “oh god, why did I do that?”
Seriously though, why do we drunk text, and what can we learn from those moments of vulnerability?
Alcohol has a dampening effect on our central nervous systems—specifically, it decreases activity in a part of our brains called the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the area in charge of decision making and rational thought. Lowered activity means lowered inhibitions, emboldening us with an iPhone-style trigger finger.
Another chemical consideration is the way in which alcohol affects our brain’s pleasure and rewards center, the nucleus accumbens—it’s like the party bus of our brains. Alcohol intake actually releases endorphins directly into this area, and as we’ve all learned from Elle Woods, endorphins make us happy. Once that initial rush of endorphins wears off, we might seek another natural high, another reward to replenish those good feelings. This could mean grabbing a second beer, or it could mean seeking attention and validation from a certain somebody. After all, with your inhibitions lowered, that might seem like a pretty good idea.
All that said, drunk texting is yet another facet of our societal definition of “drunk behavior.” If we take a look at behaviors under the influence across various cultures, the differences are striking. It is not inevitable that drinking does the things we think it does, like increase aggression and sexual arousal, for example. These trends have emerged in our particular culture in part because we’ve defined them as such; a classic case of correlation, not causation.
It’s weird to think of drunk texting as a fad, but in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what is. Imagine your parents partying with their own 20-something friends back in the day. They weren’t really drunk calling people from their touchtone landlines. It just wasn’t a thing.
Related to the aforementioned reward-seeking behaviors, another big reason we continue to drunk text is because people continue to respond. It’s not much fun carrying out a one-sided conversation, and we wouldn’t have good reason to continue the risk without the reward. The groups we’re in when making these decisions can also play a factor—some environments are more drama-enabling than others.
This is not to say that all drunk texting is bad or harmful or an evil habit that must be stopped. It’s very possible to have happy, healthy conversations with friends and loved ones just expressing how tipsy with joy you are at having them in your life. But then there’s also the kind that causes turmoil, the kind that drops our hearts into our stomachs the next morning because we can’t quite believe it’s all happening. Drama can affect your happiness in a net-negative way, and it’s important that we take ownership of that happiness whenever possible.
Not to mention that drama is usually a party of two or more. We need to recognize our drunk actions as actions that belong to us, ones that we are responsible for. How can we do that? Think back through your drunk text history—what were the motivations? What was the underlying fear, insecurity, sadness, longing, etc. that ultimately made you press send? Thinking about these things preemptively (and soberly) puts us on the path of addressing our demons before they catch up with us at the Friday night pregame.