The effects of bogus intoxication surprise people. Bogus or sham intoxication has real effects on people and their actions.
Specifically, people who falsely believe that they have been consuming alcohol tend to act like people who have actually been drinking. Conversely, people who don’t realize that they have been consuming alcohol tend to act like teetotalers.
Many of the effects of alcohol are a result of our expectations that it will affect us in certain ways. We learn these expectations from our society. For example, in those societies in which people don’t believe that intoxication disinhibits, persons don’t become disinhibited when intoxicated.
Research has found that when males falsely believe they have been drinking alcohol, they tend to become more aggressive. And when people falsely believe that they have been drinking alcohol, they experience greater sexual arousal when watching erotica. This is true of both men and women.
Other research using sham intoxication shows that it also affects such things as memory and thinking.
Of course not all of alcohol’s effects are based on expectations. The substance also has real effects. For example, it slows reaction time, breathing, and heart beat. It effects perceptions of time and distance, etc. But the fact that it does convinces us that it makes us aggressive or whatever else society teaches us.
People also have more control over their drunken behavior than we generally recognize in Western society. For example, the Lepcha people of the Himalayas tend to become sexually promiscuous when drunk. They consider that acceptable when drunk. But violation of the incest taboo leads to punishment by certain death. And the taboo is complicated. It extends very far and is highly complex.
However, no matter how drunk and promiscuous they are they never violate that complex taboo. It’s simple. They don’t want to suffer a painful death. As a result, they control their behavior no matter how drunk they become.
Because alcohol doesn’t cause bad behavior it isn’t a legitimate excuse for it.
In short, bad behavior isn’t the fault of the alcohol but of the person.
Resources on Effects of Bogus Intoxication
MacAndrew, C., and Edgerton R. Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation. Clinton Corners, NY: Percheron, 2003.
Marlatt, G. and Rosenow, D. The think-drink effect. Psy Today, 1981, 15, 60-93.