Alcohol can make you socially awkward

05:30 AEST Fri Sep 13 2013
Kimberly Gillan

You might reach for a schooner or a glass of sparkling to take the edge off an awkward social situation, but a new study shows that too much alcohol renders you incapable of reading social cues.

US researchers recruited 12 college students and gave half of them an alcoholic drink and the other half a non-alcoholic drink.

They were asked to match images of happy, angry, fearful and neutral faces with faces with the same facial expression while their brains were being scanned.

Related: The danger of Friday night drinks>

Study leader K. Laun Phan, from the University of Illinois, found that the participants who drank alcohol had disjointed connectivity between the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex regions of the brain, and they had particular difficulty matching images of the angry and fearful faces.

"This suggests that during acute alcohol intoxication, emotional cues that signal threat are not being processed in the brain normally, because the amygdala is not responding as it should be," Phan said in a statement.

The study was small, so further research will need to be done to confirm whether the findings apply at a population level, but Dr Matthew Frei, clinical director at the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, told MSN he wasn't surprised by the findings.

"Given that these parts of the brain are involved in emotional reactions and given that alcohol has multiple effects on multiple parts of the brain, these findings aren't surprising," he said.

"Alcohol reduces inhibitions, but in doing so, it can impair judgment. People might interpret cues and body language and facial expressions as aggression when it's not."

Dr Frei said the research was particularly relevant for social drinkers.

"There area lot of subtle social affects of drinking that can be problematic," he said.

The study was published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

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