“A drunk mind speaks a sober heart.” Really?

“A drunk mind speaks a sober heart” is a saying often attributed to French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau, himself quite a drunk. The idea is that when we are drunk we lose our inhibitions and allow ourselves to verbalize our true thoughts and feelings, bringing our true personality traits to light. Sober thoughts turn to drunk thoughts, and drunk thoughts turn to drunk actions.

A great many people believe it rings true. In fact, in Chinese business culture, it is believed so strongly that potential business partners are all but forced to get drunk together before any major deals take place. Plenty of friendships have been destroyed and plenty of relationships have been ruined because of something said while drunk.

There’s usually some version of one’s true feelings that come out when one is drunk,” Vranich said. “People dredge up feelings and sentiments from somewhere deep in their brains, so what one says or does certainly reflects what’s going on deep down.

Does a drunk mind really speak a sober heart?

Drunk words are sober thoughts? Experience says no.

The person that somebody is while drunk has something to do with who they are when sober. However, everybody knows that there are things that they have a tendency to do or say while drunk — things they typically were neither inclined nor capable of doing while sober. To bring that home, here are some things that I have done (don‘t judge me; I live in Ireland and I’m a writer) at some point or another when drunk:

  • Called my least favorite person my best friend.
  • Became convinced that I could do a backflip.
  • Tried and failed to do a backflip.
  • Spent several minutes trying to unlock my neighbors’ door with my key. They have a bright red door. I do not.
  • Proposed to a stranger.
  • It may be thrillingly fun to consider, in the pop-psychological sense, that those are activities which are what I am really inclined to do all the time, but am too inhibited to do without Guinness. It’s fun in the same way it’s fun for freshman psychology majors to accuse everybody of being in love with their parent on Freudian terms. But if you step back and really look at it, the claim that drunken behavior reveals true personality traits doesn’t make sense. It simply isn’t the case that I feel the way I sometimes say I do when I am drunk.

    Good times were not had by all. Not even by me. I genuinely do not want to be friends with my least favorite person. I genuinely did not want to marry that stranger. It seems alcohol doesn’t limit our self-control by giving us over to our selfish impulses. Rather, it acts against self-control is more beguiling ways, creating only lose-lose situations.

    History says no.

    On his conquest, Alexander the Great held a drinking contest among his soldiers. When it was over, 42 people had died from alcohol poisoning. It was not the intention of anyone’s “sober heart” to have several dozen people enthusiastically poison themselves to death. Enough said.

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