You know how it is when you’re in college (or high school). You’ve got that one kid (and yes, it has at some point been you) who’s never had a drink before, and they go to a party. You have a few drinks, they have a few drinks, and pretty soon, even though they have been told repeatedly that they need to keep it down because the club is 21 and up and you’ve got fake ID’s, the kid is screaming “HEY YOU GUYS! I”M SO DRUNK RIGHT NOW!!! DID I TELL YOU I WAS 17?!?!”
Now, I’m sure we all know a good bit of this is simply the loss of inhibition and the excitement of getting drunk for the first time. But there is there also something else? Haven’t we all noticed that parties where alcohol is involved tend to get WAY louder?
It turns out it may have something to do with your hearing!
This post comes to you via NCBI ROFL, providing some of the craziest abstracts to the internet since 2009.
(I do wonder, they keep doing all these studies that seem so obvious when it comes to things like acute drinking. Is there a study out there on whether or not getting drunk will make you more likely to wear your underwear on your head? Studying that in a controlled environment would be…really really awesome).
So we know that alcohol affects basically every part of your body (I’d even put bets on your toenails), and that everyone responds to alcohol slightly differently, depending on tolerance, genetics, and a host of other things. But the question these researchers wanted to ask was how alcohol specifically affects your hearing. We know that alcohol consumption increases tolerance for loud noise, but is this because you simply have a higher tolerance for the noise, or is it an actual change in your hearing?
To test this, the authors recruited thirty subjects, and made them drink until they had an alcohol level of 30u/L, which I think is roughly a BAC of 0.03 (but I could be wrong about that). This isn’t particularly drunk, more like tipsy, relaxed, chatty, and with some decreased inhibitions.
They then tested their hearing, with a threshold test of exactly what the lower limit was. They then made a pretty graph.
Hear you can see the hearing threshold at various tones or pitches (it’s graphed very funny, I think the lower down on the Y axis equates to a higher pitch). You can see that after drinking (the dark purple shaded area), the subjects had significant hearing loss. They also made a table of average hearing loss.
From the table above looking at mean hearing loss, it looks like the women lost a little bit more in the lower frequencies than men. And of course, what are you going to do when you can’t hear so great? Turn the music up! I can’t hear it! Talk louder! I can’t hear you!
And now, a side note while I rant.
Now I will tell you what annoys Sci about this phenomenon. I don’t necessarily mind people getting louder (sign we’re all having a good time, amirite!?), but it DOES make me mind when I’m at certain bars and restaurants. The bars and restaurants in question (you know which ones I’m talking about) are the ones that are trying to play off the popularity of the meatpacking district in terms of their decor, and opt for concrete floors, super high ceilings, and lot of metal. While it looks very cool and post-industrial, if ANYONE in there has had ANYTHING to drink, the place becomes an echo chamber of such loudness that your jaw clenches automatically.
Of course, this is probably great for the owners, because I know when my jaw clenches, I dang well need a drink. And actually, several studies have shown that with louder places, people eat more and drink more, probably because they can’t hear each other in the first place.
Anyway, the next time that party keeps getting louder, and everyone keeps yelling, see how much they’ve had to drink! What? WHAT? SPEAK LOUDER! I CAN”T HEAR YOU!!!!
Upile, T., Sipaul, F., Jerjes, W., Singh, S., Nouraei, S., El Maaytah, M., Andrews, P., Graham, J., Hopper, C., & Wright, A. (2007). The acute effects of alcohol on auditory thresholds BMC Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders, 7 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1472-6815-7-4