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This Is Why You Eat Too Much When You're Drunk

Man, pizza tastes great after a night of drunken karaoke! And now, scientists know why. This one goes out to the ladies who like late-night mac and cheese.
Hilary Pollack
Los Angeles, US

We've all been there: You eat a full dinner, head out to the bars, and throw back a couple of whiskey sours. Then you run into an old friend who insists on buying you a shot of tequila. And finally, you're sipping down a cheap beer as the crowd thins.

You remember eating a full plate of green curry earlier, and you have probably consumed at least 700 calories worth of alcohol since. Yet nothing sounds better right now than a massive, greasy slice of pepperoni pizza, or a $4 turkey and bacon sandwich from the corner store, or a quick stop for Fourthmeal to face-pile a couple of double-decker tacos and maybe an order of jalapeño poppers … and throw in a chocolate milkshake, too, because why the hell not.


Ah, yes: we're talking about the drunchies. Like their marijuana fueled-cousin by a rhyming name, they are a type of possessive hunger that appears with great ferocity in states of intoxication.

And though we'd already figured out why weed gives you the munchies, there is now scientifically determined reasoning behind why we also feel the need to stuff our faces when we're buzzed. A new study out of Indiana University School of Medicine's Departments of Medicine and Neurology and published in the forthcoming issue of medical journal Obesity confirms that it's not all in our heads—food actually tastes better when you've been drinking.

And this one goes out to the ladies. All the single drunk ladies.

Led by William JA Eiler II, PhD, the researchers selected 35 non-smoking, non-vegetarian women of normal weight to participate in the study, and had them come in for two visits. On one visit, they were administered alcohol intravenously to eliminate the potential social and digestive effects of drinking it. On the other visit, they were administered a placebo—just simple saline solution.

Then, the women were exposed to food and non-food aromas, and their brain responses were measured using MRI scans. After enjoying (or perhaps not enjoying) the various smells, the subjects were offered a lunch of either "pasta with Italian meat sauce" (ahem, we think they mean Bolognese) or beef with noodles.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, as anyone with a penchant for late-night mac and cheese-making knows, about two-thirds of the tipsy crew ate more than the placebo group. (Noodles do make a delightful drunk snack.) One possible explanation for this difference was revealed in the brain scans: the hypothalamus, which controls metabolism, was more responsive to the food smells after the women were intravenously dosed with booze.

And if the aroma of a big, Parmesan-dusted plate of spaghetti and meatballs can't get your appetite going after a couple of glasses of wine, who knows what can? (Answer: possibly pizza. Or a bacon-wrapped hot dog.)

This phenomenon, in addition to being colloquially known as the "drunchies," is also called the "aperitif effect." However, this study was the first of its kind to show that said palate-whetting isn't dependent on literally drinking the alcohol—and thus on its absorption through your digestive system. It's the alcohol itself, combined with your brain chemistry, that does the trick.

But beware the ides of drunk-snacking! "Many alcoholic beverages already include empty calories, and when you combine those calories with the aperitif effect, it can lead to energy imbalance and possibly weight gain," Dr. Eiler warned in a statement.

And the Western world is looking pretty fat these days. So while we know we can't talk you out of that super carnitas burrito right now even though it's 2 AM, don't say we didn't warn you.