Synthetic Alcohol – All the laughs, none of the pain!

A synthetic alcohol substitute developed from chemicals similar in composition to Valium, could give users all the buzz of tipsiness without affecting the parts of the brain that lead to pub punch-ups, addiction and sleeping in your clothes.

This isn’t some crazy shed-ology scheme dreamt up by odd-balls during their lunch hour, this synthetic is getting serious attention from Imperial College London.  Professor David Nutt, one of Britain’s top drug experts, was recently relieved of his position as a government advisor for comments he made about cannabis and MDMA.

Professor Nutt is working on a future for drinkers where they won’t become belligerent, intoxicated or even addicted.  Essentially the synthetic will replace the alcohol content of wines, beers and spirits.  Drinkers could down as many drinks as they liked and never get more than mildly drunk from the first glass to the last.

And if you were worried about the buzz being too intense to carry out certain tasks, like driving home from the pub, the affects of the synthetic could simply be turned off by taking an antidote pill, effectively pressing ‘mute’ on the brains receptors.

Hurrah – I can hear all those Star Trek fans shouting: “Synthahol is here, next stop – warp speed!”

There is little doubt that replacing alcohol with a less harmful synthetic drug will have wide reaching implications to our national health and crime figures, but here’s my concern as a behaviourist.

Firstly, how long will it take before a synthetic based drink becomes the accepted ‘norm’ to the question “what will it be?”  I can’t currently imagine that “erm, what synthetic beers have you got?” will be well received at my local Coach and Horses overnight.

There was one of those funny Facebook pictures I saw recently.  It was of a group of inebriated sailors waving manically at the camera with the line ‘alcohol – because no good sea story ever started with somebody eating a salad’.  As crazy as it seems (sitting here sober with a mug of tea), don’t we actually get a lot of reinforcement from the stuff we regret doing? Waking up on a Sunday morning, feeling like crap and having last night’s drinking posse saying “I can’t believe you did that” brings a certain kind of praise.  Yeah – I’m mental I am.  Getting into work on Monday and telling your colleagues “oh man, I was drunk on Saturday…  You’ll never guess what I did” just wouldn’t happen if the most out of shape you got was ‘tipsy’.

When I look back over a Naval career spanning 20 years and countless pints, I can see the days and hours lost to booze.  The nights I don’t remember and the days I spent nursing a hangover and unable to get off the couch.  Today I suffer from a range of medical problems, some of which can be traced to the binge-lifestyle.  But even now, when I meet up with old shipmates, we talk and laugh about the old days and the stupid things we did (I still can’t understand why Ginge was walking around Genoa with a house brick) and most of these things were done under that false force field of alcohol.

It’s great that people like Professor Nutt are investing their brainpower in solving these issues.  I certainly wouldn’t condone the excessive use of alcohol, in fact I probably oppose it more vehemently than most (send a thief to catch a thief), but in order to change behaviour, we must first fully understand it.  When we order that first pint of beer, the last thing we are thinking about is the hangover that (might) be just hours away.  We certainly are not considering our health in 10 years time or the wider social implications we might be having – we are just ordering a pint.