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Good Housekeeping
Charlene J. Owen, Contributor
November 15, 2012

Too Much To Drink: Alcoholic Men Can’t Interpret Humor or Irony

Alcohol is great in small increments, but addiction to it may blunt your sense of the most basic of emotions, even when you're not with a bottle. By Charlene J. Owen

We know that people under the influence of too much alcohol tend to have momentary episodes of misperception, but chronic alcoholic men have it worse--they can’t process other people’s emotions or interpret reactions even when they’re sober.

Researchers of a study featured on have thought that heavy drinking damages the part of the brain that decodes humor and irony, as well as other basic feelings such as happiness and sadness.  The misinterpretation oftentimes causes aggressive reactions from the dependent.

To determine the full effects of drinking on “emotion recognition,” researcher Simonta Amenta from Italy’s University of Milano-Bicocca and her colleagues worked with 44 men, half of which were non-alcoholics, while the other half were on their third week of their alcohol detoxification program. The participants read a number of stories with either a straightforward or an ironic ending and filled out a questionnaire which was designed to gauge how much they understood the emotional state of each fictional character.

The results showed that alcohol-dependent men were way off in determining irony. They were only able to identify ironic sentences 63 percent of the time, as compared to the 90 percent of non-alcoholics. This goes to show that they can easily misinterpret conversations and situations going on around them--even if they’re not drunk.

Although the study only focuses on men, alcohol has the same damaging effect on the senses of women.  It’s good to party, but important to know when to quit.  If you or your any of your loved ones reach for the bottle too often for comfort, there are many things you can do stop before you even start.  For cases that can’t be handled just by mere self-control, try to seek intervention.      

(Screencap from Mad Men courtesy of AMC)

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