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ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

What might cause a person to have such a strong and unusual reaction to drinking liquor (details)

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (23275 points ) December 18th, 2011

I am going to try to word this carefully, as I don’t want anyone to feel “outed” by what I’m going to say… but I desperately want to understand how and why this happens.

I have a very good friend who has a strange reaction nearly every time she consumes liquor. I feel like it is important to mention that she has never had an experience like this if she is drinking beer or wine… it only happens if she drinks hard liquor. It also doesn’t appear to take very much drinking for this to happen, either.

First of all, she blacks out. She will have zero recollection of what happened from the point that she blacks out, it’s as if she just went to sleep, no memory of it whatsoever. For those of us who are awake, coherent, and witnessing this… she behaves in a way that I have never seen another human being behave. Typical behavior for a person who is drunk, I suppose, but it’s very exaggerated. She is extremely loud, violent, clumsy and destructive. She becomes very promiscuous and seems to forget any social norms, often fondling strangers, taking off her clothes, or trying to kiss people (though, she is married.)

When this happens, it’s very clear to an observer that she… isn’t aware of what she is doing. I would describe it as though the lights are on but no one is home. There is something about her eyes, it’s as if the real person has left her body, and it has been taken over by a… tornado.

As for any other important details, she doesn’t drink frequently, maybe once a week.. and rarely to the point of being drunk. Again, it doesn’t seem to be that she is drinking too much, because I have seen this happen after one or two drinks, and sometimes it never happens at all… and it only happens with hard liquor. She does not take medication.

Can someone explain to me what is going on or why this happens? In 29 years I have never seen anything else like it.

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55 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

What medications is she taking? Mixing alcohol with some medications can be deadly.

The beer is not as strong as hard liquor and this may be the reason she reacts this way.

Pain killers and some blood pressure medicenes can be deadly.

Check out the medications she is also taking, in addition to drinking the alcohol.

jerv's avatar

As I recall, females general process alcohol faster than us guys. If she is smaller in stature, that only compounds the issue.

Give a 100-pound woman a shot of Jack and she will be far more out of it than a 190-pound guy who may barely feel that shot.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Oh, no medications at all.
Been this way for as long as I can remember, and she has never been on medication.

She is probably 5’10”, 190–200lbs.

jerv's avatar

About my size then, so it must be something to do with her metabolism.

I have a boss that will get more shit-faced after two wine coolers than my buddy will after half a bottle of straight vodka and 17 Mimosas. Interesting Christmas party last weekend…

zenvelo's avatar

Is she drinking the liquor faster than if she was drinking wine or beer? It sounds like the liquor hits her system faster. And I wonder if perhaps she is on a medication or taking drugs you don’t know about.

A shot has the same alcohol as a beer or a glass of wine, so it must be something in how quickly she drinks and /or absorbs the alcohol.

jerv's avatar

@zenvelo I think I already hinted at the absorption. As for the concentration, I tend to drink based on fluid volume; I will drain a 2 ounce shot faster than a 12 ounce beer. Give me a 4 ounce Highball glass full of hard liquor and that is more than a beer and far faster; more like four beers in under 30 seconds.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@zenvelo I don’t think it is a secret medication, I don’t want to go into the details (again, I dont’ want to risk “outing” anyone), but I would know. For at least a large portion of our lives, there would have been virtually no way to keep something like that a secret.

I know that is vague, but, it’s true. You have to just take my word for it.

I’m not sure if she is drinking it faster, perhaps. Certainly no faster than anyone around her. What might make a person feel effects so unique, though? I have friends that are 100lbs that can drink shots next to her all night, and be pretty drunk.. but I have never seen anyone do what she does. Not in movies, not on TV, not in real life, just.. never.

Seaofclouds's avatar

It probably is something specific to the way her body is metabolizing the alcohol. I’ve heard of people having issues with the way their body metabolizes the alcohol and it causes them to experience that super drunkenness without drinking a lot. Basically, those people have an alcohol intolerance.

Does she have any stomach or liver issues? Is she eating food while drinking the alcohol? There are two (I think) specific enzymes in the liver that play a role in metabolizing the alcohol. If she is lacking in one or both of these, it may explain what’s going on with her.

Pandora's avatar

Maybe its because wine and beer have lower amount of alcohol and you need to drink more of it to get the same buzz as one shot of hard liquor. Its also possible that she eat when she has her wine and beer and that will also slow down how quickly the alcohol is metabolized.
But no. I have never seen anyone go buck wild when drunk. Vomit, yes, act disgraceful yes, but not black out. More like pass out after a while. Some have claimed not to remember but they have always turned out to be liars. Now my husband had a friend who would black out and behave as you suggested but even drunk as a skunk, my husband said his friend would never come onto other women. If anything he said sometimes he would get nasty with women who would try to rap to him. He would get offended because he would tell them he was not interested and was married. But he would not remember anything that happened after he got drunk.
He wasn’t a heavy drinker either. But his drunkeness was after having a few beers.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Seaofclouds sometimes yes, sometimes no. There doesn’t seem to be any one steady factor… except that it only happens when she drinks hard liquor. That includes shots, mixed drinks, anything like that.
She has a history of kidney stones, but I don’t know about stomach or liver issues. None that we’re aware of. Do you know what might cause a deficiency in these enzymes? I wonder if you’re onto something…

Is “alcohol intolerance” an actual issue? I’ll look into that, a bit.

She (obviously) didn’t ask me to ask this question, but she would also like to know why this happens to her. We’ve wondered for years, it is very bizarre.

@Pandora I am 100% positive that she is not lying about not remembering. You can physically see a difference. I’ve seriously never seen anything else like it. Very strange.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Found it.

bkcunningham's avatar

A mixed drink or a few shots is stronger than a few beers. How much and what kinds of drinks does she drink when this happens?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@bkcunningham it doesn’t seem to be related to the amount of alcohol. I don’t know how else to explain it. It is more like… she can have a mixed drink or a couple of shots, and suddenly turn into this crazed, blacked out person.
Or, she can drink beer and wine all night long, get drunk like most people, and that’s the end of it.
On the other hand, sometimes she can have several mixed drinks or several shots, and nothing is out of the ordinary… or, again, she can spontaneously become wildly out of control.

The fact that she (or those of us around her) can’t seem to pinpoint what exactly triggers it, is part of the mystery.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Yes, alcohol intolerance is a real thing. Does it happen with one particular type of liquor over another? Does she have allergies to any of the grains that are commonly used in liquor? Perhaps it’s something else in the liquor that’s causing the intolerance.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Seaofclouds no, any liquor will do it.

I looked up alcohol intolerance, and it says that it often starts with nasal congestion and a flushed face. That’s me. Ha.

JLeslie's avatar

It seems odd that beer would be different than hard alcohol, that part I can’t explain.

There is a genetic condition, an enzyme I think, or lack thereof, that makes people less able to tolerate alcohol. I think it is found more often in the asian population, but not exclusovely of course. But. Still, that should mean any form of alcohol I would think.

Also, passing out, and significant memory lapses from alcohol is considerd a sign of alcoholism. I vaguely remember that alcoholics actually have it happen more easily as the disease progresses, not less as some people might think. Building tolerance seems to be not the case for some people, but the opposite happens. I’m not very knowledgable about it though.

JLeslie's avatar

Is it a particular hard alcohol? Vodka not rum? That sort of thing?

Does she always have a drink with her? Always? All day? Water? Pepsi? No matter what cannot be without a bottle in her hand or nearby?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JLeslie actually, I was just reading that blackouts being an indication of alcoholism is a myth. I have heard that, but apparently now they say that it isn’t true.

In fact, after I looked up “alcohol intolerance,” I am finding more and more information that says that blacking out of any sort is not really understood, so maybe this just falls into a category of “things we don’t yet understand.”

No specific type of alcohol. Definitely no whiskey, though. Whiskey seems to have a more significant effect than any other, but, it is not the only one that does it.

Bellatrix's avatar

I really have no idea what causes it but wonder if it happens more if she hasn’t eaten or is tired? Perhaps you should record her behaviour on your phone so she can see it afterwards. Whatever is causing it, she should probably stay away from hard liquor if it is having that effect. She could end up in trouble if she was with the wrong people.

And @JL, I can’t explain why but I know people who have very different reactions to specific types of alcohol.

JLeslie's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Interesting.

Maybe it is an allergy of some sort.

JLeslie's avatar

@Bellatrix i guess it is something in the drink. Like how some people can’t drink red wine. It’s not the alcohol, but the other stuff in it that they have a reaction to. They don’t get drunker, but they get horrible headaches.

Bellatrix's avatar

Yes. Perhaps. I know my husband, who I have only ever seen drunk once, gets obnoxious if he drinks certain spirits or full strength beer. No idea why. So he avoids those things.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Bellatrix she knows she isn’t supposed to drink it. After many years of noticing this pattern, she swore it off. It doesn’t happen very often now, because she is pretty good about avoiding it.. but once she has had a couple of beers, or enough of anything to lower her inhibitions, someone unwittingly hands her a shot or a drink, and it’s all downhill from there.

Bellatrix's avatar

Nods, I hear you. Poor lady. Not a good thing.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

This is a very interesting situation. As a sober alcoholic, I really believe that your friend has what we call a simple allergy to alcohol. I say it’s simple, but it’s actually devastating.

@ANef_is_Enuf : you mentioned just above that she swore it off. I can assure you from personal experience that is a classic symptom of alcoholism. Only an alcoholic ever wonders if they may be an alcoholic. Swearing off. Taking oaths. Taking cures. Taking trips. Enlisting the aid of others in controlling the behavior. The list goes on and on.

Let me remind us all that alcoholism is a fatal disease, if left untreated. The only treatment seems to be total abstinence. There are many ways to that goal, and your friend will have to find her way there.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake I come from a family full of alcoholics, so I’m definitely aware of the patterns and behavior.
I can’t rule it out, but I am very close with this person, and I don’t suspect that alcoholism is the issue. Can a person be an alcoholic and not drink often? Is that possible?

Even if she were (secretly) drinking on a regular basis now and I was unaware… in the same way that I mentioned above that I would know if she were taking medication, I would also have known if she was drinking frequently or excessively, and that has never been the case. It just seems to hit randomly, and it has always been this way. I don’t think she is necessarily always responsible about her drinking, but I don’t think she is an alcoholic.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf : Yes, it is completely possible to be a binge drinker and an alcoholic. The disease isn’t defined by the generalities we know. Alcoholism is an abnormal reaction to alcohol that causes impairment of normal body functions or normal behavior. A person does not need to be a daily drinker to fit that description.

Am I saying that anyone who goes out one night in college and gets plastered and wakes to regret it is an alcoholic? No. Someone who can stop drinking once they’ve started is not an alcoholic.

Here’s a 20 question quiz about drinking that your friend could take. It might be a place to start talking about whether a real problem exists or not.

I also recommend therapy. It’s good to open up to a disinterested third party observer.

Bellatrix's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf my husband told me about a man who lived across the road from him. He didn’t drink for months on end but then every now and then would go out and drink until he passed out. Once he started, he could not stop. Then months would go by and then he would do it again.

JLeslie's avatar

In my opinion drinking and not being able to stop is a sign of alcoholism. But, again, I am not an expert.

Not to be confused with someone who drank too much one night.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I always think of alcoholism as it relates to what I know of alcoholism… which is that the people I’ve grown up around drink every day. Sometimes all day. It’s this excessive, constant need to consume alcohol.
But, if it is possible to be an alcoholic and not drink regularly, then, yes I do see it as a possibility. I don’t think that it necessarily explains this strange happening with the blackouts, but it is an important part of the big picture.

Personally, if I had this kind of reaction to drinking, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t touch the stuff ever again. But, I am not much of a drinker to begin with. Not to say that I haven’t gotten sloppy on occasion, but, I can’t really imagine wanting to drink any more if this sort of thing happened to me once… let alone repeatedly.

I guess I hadn’t realized that it could be an issue without being a frequent or habitual thing.

ETpro's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf I can’t answer your OP why, but I would ask a possibly more important why. Why let her keep doing this. Get a video camera and document the next episode. Show her, and tell her that this happens every time she consumes hard liquor. If she persists in drinking it after seeing how she is embarrassing herself and putting herself at risk of rape, a brutal beating in a fight she starts, a serious accident due to her loss of coordination or worse; then I would say you’ve got the answer to your first why. There must be something psychologically driving her to have this experience.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@ETpro I actually plan to. The last time I witnessed it was about a year ago, and we had a huge fight over it. She was at my house, broke some items, threw up on my floor, the whole nine yards. I was pretty ticked off. I said that if it ever happened again in my presence that I would record her behavior so that she can actually see what she’s like.

I think you raise a good question.

augustlan's avatar

For many years after my thyroid went haywire, I had such a weird reaction to alcohol of any kind that I quit drinking for 20 years. It wasn’t the same reaction as the one you mention, I just puked my guts up (long before I even got tipsy) every time I drank even half a beer. I’d never had any problems with that before the thyroid issues. It just makes me wonder if she might have a thyroid problem or other metabolic issue. It’s really weird that beer and hard liquor hit her differently, though.

I’m able to tolerate alcohol again now, for whatever reason. <shrugs>

ETpro's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Thanks, and good luck catching the candid action.

jazmina88's avatar

I certainly hope you have told her of her antics. if I did that, I would drink not mixed drinks and stick to the small stuff.

judochop's avatar

If this only happens when she drinks liquor and not beer or wine then I am almost positive that it is what type of liquor she is drinking. Some bodies breakdown the sugars in the liquor differently. Tequila will speed you up and wake you up before the initial breakdown happens. Gin, some folks react to juniper in a strange way. Vodka, perhaps she does not know how much she is consuming and at what rate she is consuming. The list goes forever.
It is also possible that she is allergic to liquor and should stay away from it. Does she turn red when she drinks?
Fact of the matter is that if she is 29 and still acting like this then perhaps she has a problem she is not letting on to. Maybe she drinks to forget on purpose.
I’d start knocking the shots out of her hand before she pisses someone off in the bar and ends up hurt.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My daughter seems to react much more quickly to the effects of alcohol than anyone else. Two beers and she starts getting arrogant and belligerent. It must be some sort of… something.

I do hope that your friend quits drinking liquor all together. I rarely drink hard liquor because it has a much more pronounced effect on me than beer, and I don’t like it. Later.

SmashTheState's avatar

There’s an interesting (and famous) psych experiment in which the researchers replaced all the alcohol in a university bar with de-alcoholized versions of the same drinks, then observed people’s behaviour. People not only acted drunk and disorderly, as usual, but when they were informed that their drinks were non-alcoholic and offered their money back, they refused to believe it and said they were completely hammered.

The effects of alcohol on behaviour are mostly suggestion. The alcohol is just a way people give themselves justification to act the way they really want to act: generally like total assholes. I would wager heavily that your friend is just highly repressed, sexually unfulfilled, and uses alcohol to excuse behaviour which she would never allow herself in normal circumstances.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Do you have a link to that “famous” experiment? It doesn’t sound very well controlled, since it involved one university, and the subjects were all roughly the same age, and roughly in the same stage of mental and emotional development (more mature than they were but not as mature as they’re going to be.)

I strongly disagree that “The effects of alcohol on behaviour (sic) are mostly suggestion” That’s ridiculous. It is safe to say that people will do things under the effects of alcohol, or even if they THINK they’re under the effect of alcohol, that they wouldn’t do otherwise, but if someone is just playing drunk they wouldn’t do something like drive their car head on into a semi.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@SmashTheState : Can we get a source for that famous experiment?

I can state categorically from personal experience that my behavior changed radically when I drank alcohol. To state otherwise is to deny what your own eyes are telling you and to deny the experience in the OP. Alcoholism is a real disease. Your assertions that it’s merely a justification to act like an asshole flies in the face of centuries of empirical data.

SmashTheState's avatar

@Dutchess_III @Hawaii_Jake I can’t find the original experiment (which I’ve seen described in several psych texts) but here’s a similar experiment which finds the same results.

PS: Why does “behaviour” get a (sic)?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@SmashTheState : The article addresses alcohol’s perceived effect on memory, not assholery.

SmashTheState's avatar

“A drug is neither moral nor immoral – it’s a chemical compound. The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats it as if consumption bestowed a temporary license to act like an asshole.”Frank Zappa

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@SmashTheState : Are we to take Frank Zappa as an authority on the psycho-social effects of drugs and alcohol? That’s beyond absurd.

SmashTheState's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake If you want to pretend that it’s the alcohol which makes you stand on tables in your underwear and sing old Irish ballads in falsetto, then by all means be my guest. But in psych circles, it’s well established that the psychological effects of alcohol are mostly psychosomatic. Which is not to say they’re not real, they’re just not caused by the chemical effects of ethyl alcohol on the brain. (And I accept Frank Zappa as an authority on the effects of psychoactive substances for the same reason I’d accept the authority of fish on water.)

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@SmashTheState : What psych circles might those be, please? Sources?

SmashTheState's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake My psych texts are currently in the storage room of my apartment, underneath large amounts of junk. I am not going to spend hours digging it out. If you’re so suspicious that I’m manufacturing this from whole cloth, then feel free to do the research yourself. I provided you with a link to at least one supporting piece of evidence which, for reasons which are unclear to me, you completely dismiss. I’m not spending any additional time on this.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Bullshit! And that’s all I have to say!

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@SmashTheState wrote above ” But in psych circles, it’s well established that the psychological effects of alcohol are mostly psychosomatic.” I believe this is utterly, dangerously false. I am an alcoholic. I can tell you the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social toll alcohol had on my life and the lives of many others. Saying it’s psychosomatic is passing the buck and saying the alcoholic needs to simply quit. Alcoholics can’t quit without a deeply traumatic revelation in the vast majority of cases.

Would a person knowingly ruin their jobs through the use of alcohol? No. Would a person knowingly ruin their marriages and significant relationships through the use of alcohol? No. Would a person ruin their health? No. Would a person risk death by drinking? No. Yet millions of people do this on a daily basis all over the world.

We are instead told to trust the psych textbooks that one user has in a storage room. We are told to blindly trust them. No, I will trust published, peer-reviewed data instead. I will trust my own personal experience battling the disease.

I know countless people who are now dead because of alcoholism. I can tell you the story of sitting by the bedside of one such person who was near her last breath, because she could not stop drinking. It was a gruesome scene.

I don’t have to do my research. In the circles I mix with, death is common from this disease and that is far from psychosomatic.

SmashTheState's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake I’m not going to have this discussion with you. You’re clearly not rational about it, and you have a vested interest in defending your position to the death. Have a nice life.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

It really doesn’t matter if @SmashTheState is right, or if he is wrong. It may or may not explain why she acts the way that she does when she’s had too much to drink, but it doesn’t explain the blackouts or what seems to cause them so spontaneously.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’ll send this to Dr. Stuart…he may know something.

Dutchess_III's avatar

That’s a blast from the past and YOU’RE NO HELP!!!

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