Photo by Miranda Thiago on Unsplash

By Liz Crowe

Ever think about how we have so many words for booze? Giggle juice. Social lubricant. Liquid courage.

And it seems that we have even more ways to describe someone being drunk — hammered, blasted, gazeboed, etc. Some vintage terms for being drunk sound funny or bizarre to us today; back in the day, one might have heard that a drunk person “has more sail than ballast” or was “all mops and brooms.”

Okay, sorry. I got lost down a rabbit hole of words and phrases. There is a point to this; bear with me.

This month, in keeping (admittedly for the first time) with the theme of “Happiness and Joy,” we’re going to have a little chat about why “copping a tipple” can make you joyous at first, but later you’re all “katzenjammer,” with a “crapulent hair-ache.” 

Words, am I right? They have serious power, especially the old-timey and foreign descriptions for being hung-over that I found thanks to the great Interwebs.

The stage at which you are joyous is where we’ll focus for this month’s moderately researched and yet gratuitously presented bit of fluff we call Booze 101. Mainly because, having traversed the long stretch of road between joyously buzzed and Hungdog Millionare many more times than I should have in my life, I’ve reached a point in my drinking existence where I no longer drink for effect.

We’ve all (mostly) been there* — that split second in time when you’re staring into your red Solo cup, or your beer can, or your glass of Two Buck Chuck and you think, “Well, how did I get here?”**

The answer is a simple one. You got there because of ethanol, a by-product of fermentation — which is the word that describes how yeast interacts with either malt, wheat, grapes, potatoes, corn, or other plant products by breaking down their natural sugars. Ethanol has a stimulating effect at first. It happens fast, too — pretty much the moment anything with ethanol enters your mouth hole. Basically, in science talk, tiny blood vessels in your mouth and on your tongue introduce it straight into your bloodstream. 

Picture, if you will, a party boat — perhaps a pontoon on a lake, or a fancy yacht. Everybody’s super happy climbing on board. Sun! Water! Music! Friends! Party! Now imagine that party boat is your physical and emotional self on a drinking night. Things get kicked off once you push away from shore or dock, the music starts blasting, you smell sunscreen and saltwater/lake-water. It’s super fun, this first part. That’s the ethanol entering your bloodstream with the first wash of liquid across your tongue. It’s nothing but fun and games.

The booze then hits your stomach and small intestine, where up to 20% of it will get absorbed into your bloodstream. No big deal. You’re still on drink number two. All is good. Party boat’s in full swing.

If you’re drinking on an empty stomach — which is rookie-level activity, and shame on you if you do this and still call yourself a Liz Acolyte — things will escalate a lot quicker since it’s a scientific fact that food in your stomach will help absorb some of that ethanol, keeping it out of your bloodstream at least for a while. Assuming you’re having a meal or a plate of pretzel nuggets with your drink(s), and that the bloodstream uptake is normal, your party boat is hitting its stride — music is blasting, people are laughing, and there is zero party drama.

Once the ethanol is fully onboarded because you’ve ordered drink number three (or low-ABV beer number five), things are going to change. Your bloodstream moves that stuff around fast, and until your liver gets to work on it, it causes your blood vessels to widen, which leads to that warm, fuzzy, everything-and-everyone-around-me-is-great feeling. As the alcohol builds up in your bloodstream, it’s headed right for your brain pan. And that, my friends, is where the magic happens. At first, you feel super social, happier, and more confident because the stuff that began as what yeast excretes after eating the sugar out of cooked grains/fruit/vegetables stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin — the “feel-good” hormones — in your brain. 

So now the party boat is really rockin’. You’ve arrived at the sand bar or that spot where you’ll hook your boat up to all the other ones and start boat hopping. There’s nothing better in the universe than your boat, your friends, the sun, the water, and your SPF 30 sunscreen. This is the point of no return, because this is that point when you know you’ve had enough — the point at which if you have one more drink (or two more low-ABV beers) you’ll be booking a trip to Hungsville. What happens in your body next can be compared to getting too much water in your party boat. It can take a few splashes and still remain part of the party. But if too much water ends up in the boat, it’s going to sink.

So let’s say you have “just one more” because your friend needs your advice about her love life, or you’re jamming to the band that’s playing, and you can leave your car and get a Lyft home anyway. That next drink is going to wash over your tongue, hit your stomach, go directly to your bloodstream, and hit your brain. And because your happy hormones have already been triggered, the next thing that ethanol does is depress your central nervous system. And that doesn’t mean you’re about to get a case of the sads. It means that your brain’s communication pathways are interrupted and your ability to process information is officially altered.

It’s also that time of night where you start to have physical symptoms: dizziness, blurred vision, slurred speech, and loss of coordination — the triggers that every well-trained bartender red-flags to stop serving you. And if that weren’t enough going on in your poor bod, now you start getting dehydrated. Your brain normally produces something called an antidiuretic hormone (ADH) that tells your kidneys how much water to conserve. That’s about to go haywire, causing your kidneys to produce more water, which sends you stumbling to the bathroom over and over again. And it’s a bar, so it’s probably super gross in there.

Okay. Back to our slowly-stretching-too-thin party boat analogy. Now the boat has taken on so much water that your friends are all pissed off, blaming each other for the mishap that allowed water into the boat in the first place. A rumble of thunder warns that more water is about to fall from the sky, which is going to make everything that much worse. All the other boats have left the sand bar, unhooked from your sinking vessel, and you’re left with nothing but drama, angry friends, a soggy picnic basket, and regret.

You know, kind of like that split second in time where you’re staring down into your red Solo cup, or your beer can, or your glass of Two Buck Chuck and you think, “Well, how did I get here?”

The key to maintaining the good times when drinking? Know your limit. It’s taken me the better part of thirty years and lots of soggy party boat trial and error, but I know mine and I’m a slave to it these days. I’ve only allowed myself a couple of times to imbibe enough get myself still drunk (an extraordinarily astute Egyptian phrase for hungover) or experience a howling of kittens (Polish for hangover) in the last few years. And because I know what I know about how not to get one, I stay squarely in my joyous happy zone when I drink these days. Because honestly, who needs to get smacked on the behind (polite translation of Swedish for hungover), or be all Katzenjammer (German, which translates to caterwauling or simply “having a tomcat”) with a crapulent (Danish) hair-ache (French)?

Imbibe, my friends. But know that the wet party boat syndrome is both avoidable and well-avoided.


*This sweeping generalization should be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t mean to assume that we all drink, but since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you want to hear about me doing it.

**Apologies to David Byrne, but this is exactly what I thought at that split second.


Amazon best-selling author, mom of three, brewery founder, beer and wine consultant, and avid sports fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales, public relations, and fundraising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse, all of which provide ongoing idea fodder for novels and other projects. She helped found and is the current president of Fermenta Michigan, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and employment of women in the fermented industries. (fan page)