The Science Behind Drunk Munchies

I like pizza.  

But when it’s 4 a.m., I’ve tossed back a few vodka tonics, and I’m leaving a dimly-lit bar after dancing to the Top 40 for hours on end, I actually need pizza.

When our blood alcohol levels increase, so do our appetites.  Affectionately known as the drunk munchies, or “drunchies”, these hunger pangs are usually powerful enough to convince our intoxicated selves that junk food is the move — even if it’s coming from the sketchy food cart posted up right outside the bar.

But why do our nights out end with takeout?  Turns out, several factors are at play here.

Let’s break it down.

Your Blood-Sugar Level Gets Low

Much like you probably did on the dance floor after your fourth shot of tequila.  But for real, when you’re a few drinks deep, your liver goes into overdrive trying to process all that excess alcohol you’ve consumed.  That extra bit of effort from your liver makes it hard for your body to maintain healthy glucose levels, so your blood-sugar level drops.  Your body then starts to crave foods that will bring it back up — especially anything loaded with carbs.

Your Hypothalamus Perks Up

You know how your morning cup of coffee makes you feel all hyped and ready to take on the day?  That’s what a couple of whiskey gingers will do to your hypothalamus, the part of your brain that regulates your body’s most basic functions — we’re talking sleeping patterns, body temperature, sex drive, thirst, and of course, hunger.  Alcohol stimulates the hypothalamus, which is why drinking a lot can make your brain think you’re hungry.  The hypothalamus also becomes more receptive to the sight and smell of food after alcohol consumption, so if you pass someone who’s indulging in some post-club grub, you’ll want in, too.

Your Guard Goes Down

Alcohol’s spirit animal is basically 2004 Natasha Bedingfield, melodically urging you to release your inhibitions. Whether you’re drinking beer, wine, or liquor, your stress and anxiety levels are going to decrease — which is why people often drink to “take the edge off”.  Scientifically, this happens when alcohol attaches to the main neurotransmitter in our brains, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).  Once our drinks of choice have chilled us out, we tend to be a lot less health conscious, and a lot more likely to indulge in a post-party snack.

You’ve Made it a Habit

If you fondly remember ordering Chinese takeout with your roomies after a crazy night out, you’re likely to do it again — and probably make it a habit.  This is all thanks to a little psychological concept called operant conditioning.  Basically, different stimuli lead to behaviors which have certain consequences. Behaviors that have positive consequences get reinforced.  So if party vibes and intoxication are the stimuli, the behavior is consuming junk food in a drunken state, and the consequence is a damn good time, then the behavior (consuming junk food in a drunken state) is going to be reinforced — probably next weekend.

So, there actually are legitimate reasons why you (and I) are making those 4 a.m. pizza runs.  

Turns out we really can blame ‘em on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol.


Featured image via Kellyn Simpkins

Brenna McDonald

Editorial Contributor, Fordham University Major: Communications & Media Studies Her heart belongs to: early mornings, window seats, & Sunday brunch Her guilty pleasures: re-watching Gossip Girl, collecting mascara, browsing lifestyle blogs, & having breakfast for dinner

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