For drinking enthusiasts of a certain disposition, there are some drinks that are best avoided. The alcoholic rumour mill has long held that some booze will make you fighty, some will make you sick and some will leave you sobbing. You just have to know which is which. However, in the last category, the undisputed ring leader is gin.
The trope of tearfully swigging from a bottle of gin as you complain about work/exes/how sad it is that not all puppies find a home is an accepted part of public conversation. As comic Dylan Moran puts it, “it’s less of a drink, more of a mascara thinner”. Anyone who may get weepy on a night out essentially has a prepackaged “get out of jail free” card - when the tears start rolling, just blame it on the G&T.
However, unlike the vast majority of foodie myths, there may be some legitimacy to gin’s teary reputation. A study released in 2017, which surveyed over 30,000 people between 18 and 34, attempted to get to the bottom of exactly what the effects of different drinks may be on the body. Participants were asked to describe how alcohol such as red and white wine, beer and spirits usually affected them. The results were stark.
The study showed that nearly one third of spirit drinkers reported feeling aggressive and emotional after imbibing, compared to a mere 2.5 per cent of those drinking wine. Nearly a quarter stated that spirits made them feel tearful, versus 17 per cent of wine drinkers and just nine per cent of beer drinkers. Equally distressing was the finding that spirits were the least relaxing drink, with only 20 per cent of people claiming that they calmed them down. Clearly, there’s more to gin’s reputation than hearsay.
There are several reasons why spirits like gin may have such a pronouncedly negative effect on people. Speaking to The Telegraph at the time of report’s publication, Public Health Wales’ director of public policy, Professor Mark Bellis explained that, “Spirits are often consumed more quickly and have much higher concentrations of alcohol in them. This can result in a quicker stimulating effect as blood alcohol levels increase.”
He also added that spirits “may also be consumed in different social occasions so people may be drinking them deliberately to feel the drunken effect quickly while other types of drink are more likely to be consumed slowly or with food. As people get the kick from escalating alcohol levels, the same increases reduce the brain's ability to suppress impulsive feelings or to consider the consequences of acting on them.”
Though Bellis’ expertise explains why spirits may be more affecting than other drinks, it doesn't necessarily help solve the mystery behind why gin may be a particular tearjerker. In actual fact, the key may not have anything to do with chemistry, but may lie in the drink’s past.
Historically, gin has suffered through some fairly rough PR patches. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the drink was blasted by politicians and seen as a corrupting influence on the population, as it was the only readily available form of hard liquor on the streets of London. Artists such as Hogarth displayed the devastating effects of “Mother’s Ruin” in satirical cartoons, and helped to forge the drink’s reputation as a root of vice and depravity. Given that this was the accepted attitude towards gin for many years, it seems that we have not yet been able to disassociate ourselves from the negative headlines. Gin’s modern emotional impact may be more about false association than anything else.
Even if drinking gin isn’t an instant trigger for tearfulness, it’s obvious that the connection is more than rumour. That being said, there’s more to spirits than feeling miserable. The same study that reported the negative effects of highly alcoholic drinks also found that “Respondents’ level of alcohol dependency was strongly associated with feeling all emotions, with the likelihood of aggression being significantly higher in possible dependent versus low risk drinkers”. This means that anyone who indulges in the occasional Tom Collins is unlikely to burst into tears without warning.
What's more, even though spirits such as gin may boost feelings of aggression and depression, the study also found some more positive psychological effects. Of all the drinks tested in the survey, spirits were also the most likely to help drinkers feel confident, energised and sexy, with 59 per cent, 58 per cent and 42 per cent of responders reporting the effects respectively. Though the long term impact of alcohol is undoubtedly damaging, it’s clear that it’s not all bad news if consumed in moderation.
The effects that alcohol can have vary massively from person to person. Any number of factors can determine how a drinker feels after a night on the town. What is clear though, is that certain types of drinks are more likely to lead to a specific outcome than others. Next time you find yourself in a situation where you need to remain poised and collected, it may be a good idea to steer clear of the hard liquor. Even if you don’t feel particularly fragile, you never know what may happen.