Let’s Drink to Work

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Are you short on creativity with a looming deadline? Have some of your favourite tipple and unlock your genius

If the researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago had their way, they’d probably make it a rule for all companies to start plying everyone at the workplace with alcohol. They are claiming that a little intoxication is just what employees need, especially those experiencing brain constipation. Yes, you read it right. Apparently, alcohol is the perfect brain lube, so when you drink you not only become intoxicated, you become productively intoxicated. Isn’t it about time employers announced that all drinks are on the house?

Let’s face it; peoples’ smarts are not in tip-top shape all the time. Sometimes you’re racking your brain for the perfect idea, phrase or word, and it eludes you. To make matters worse, sometimes it feels as though you’re being chased by seven demons all screaming in unison, “Deadlines!” No amount of pacing the floor will rev up your brain. Well, here’s the good news: You can use alcohol as your muse. The bad news: Not all bosses are fine with that.

Sober Or Buzzed

Many have long considered alcohol the devil in liquid form, so these findings go against traditional beliefs that drinking alcohol impairs rational thinking and increases the possibility of making bad decisions.

Lest you suspect the University of Illinois researchers’ pronouncements were just the product of an inebriated mind, here’s how they came up with that conclusion: They administered vodka cranberry cocktails to a group of participants aged 21-30, calibrated as per the person’s body weight. The participants consumed the drinks until their blood alcohol level (BAC) reached 0.07 (slightly lower than Kenya’s legal alcohol limit which is 0.08), while another group stayed sober. Both groups were then made to solve math and word association problems.

Surprisingly, the mildly intoxicated participants solved more word problems and even faster than their sober counterparts. What’s more interesting is that, those who drank felt as if their ideas came all at once and more like a sudden insight.

So what happened there? The findings, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, led researchers to theorise that being mildly drunk promoted a more strategic way of thinking by reducing the tendency to pay attention to a lot of things simultaneously and instead directing the focus on cues that would otherwise be ignored if the participant was sober. They said alcohol helped unleash creativity by reducing the mind’s working memory capacity, which is helpful when it comes to solving analytical problems. They found that people who drank alcohol and had a blood alcohol level of 0.07 or higher found difficulty solving problems that required analytical skills, but surprisingly did better at creative solving problem tests.

The University of Illinois research made such a big impact on alcohol lovers the world over that a Dutch marketing firm and brewery decided to ride its revolutionary wave. The research inspired the creation of The Problem Solver, a beer that aims to help drinkers find their “creative peak” (roughly around the BAC of 0.075 per cent). The bottle is labelled with an indicator showing body weights to help drinkers determine how much they need to drink to get their creative juices flowing. Creativity aside, other studies say that drinking alcohol has a lot of benefits including reduced risk for heart disease. A Harvard study found that middle-aged men who have a small glass of wine or a half pint of beer a day, seven days a week cut their risk of developing heart failure by 20 per cent, while for women, the risk is lessened by 16 per cent. The study, involving 14,000 male and female participants aged 45 to 64, revealed that those who drink up to seven days a week had the lowest risk of heart failure. Another study has found a connection between resveratrol (which comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine) and heart and brain health, further claiming that moderate drinking of red wine may actually slow aging.

Those who love a glass of bubbly can also take comfort in the fact that drinking three glasses of champagne a week can help prevent brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, that’s according to a study conducted at Reading University in the U.K. The memory aid comes from phenolic acid, a compound found in champagne.

So you see, it appears that drinking moderately does not only give you a good dose of creativity; it also improves your overall health. Cheers to that!

What happens to your body when you drink alcohol? Slurred speech, stumbling around, loose tongue – these are some of the noticeable effects when alcohol assaults the senses. But what exactly goes on in your body when you drink alcohol?

When you drink, around 20 per cent of the alcohol is absorbed in your stomach, while the remaining 80 is absorbed in your small intestine. The rate of absorption depends on the alcohol concentration in the drink and whether or not you’ve had something to eat (absorption is slower on a full stomach).

Once absorbed, the alcohol enters the bloodstream and then hits the brain, altering the chemistry there by affecting the levels of chemicals called neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals control thought processes, behaviour and emotion by transmitting signals throughout the body. Alcohol affects the release of both the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. Glutamate, an example of an excitatory neurotransmitter, is responsible for boosting brain activity and energy levels. Alcohol suppresses the release of glutamate, slowing down brain activity. On the other hand, the effects of GABA, an example of an inhibitory neurotransmitter which reduces energy levels and makes you calm, is increased by alcohol intake.

Alcohol also jacks up dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Dopamine deficiency results in Parkinson’s Disease. Drinking alcohol gives you a dopamine rush, making you feel good, confident and less inhibited, which probably explains why people often use alcohol to get them through a difficult situation. Some people get addicted to drinking to satisfy their dopamine craving, not realising that the dopamine effect decreases overtime until it is virtually non-existent. But by then, they are already too hooked on alcohol to care.

According to research, the dopamine rush as a result of alcohol intake is more significant for men than women, which could be the reason why there are more men who drink than women. Results of the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) revealed that about 10 per cent of men become alcoholic over the course of their lifetime compared to only 3 to 5 per cent of women.

However, drinking at work does not depend solely on whether or not you’re a drinker, or whether you believe the above findings on creativity vis a vis imbibing alcohol. It depends mostly on whether or not it is allowed in your company.

There are a number of companies that serve alcohol to employees, and ad agencies take the cake in this regard. International ad agency J. Walter Thompson, headquartered in New York, boasts a 50-foot-long bar with pedestal stools that is used during or after office hours. Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, a global ad agency also headquartered in New York, regularly hosts openbar events called Trolleys where both employees and clients are served the likes of Svedka vodka, Milagro tequila, Glenfiddich whiskey, Sailor Jerry rum and Hedricks gin. Yelp, Inc.’s company headquarters in San Francisco is reportedly equipped with a “keg refrigerator” that offers employees with an endless supply of beer. Ditto with Twitter Inc., which also has a wine and beer fridge.

Employees must know their own organisation to determine if drinking in the company premises is an acceptable behaviour. Take a cue from your officemates and company executives. Do they also drink at work, and how much? If so, then it is acceptable. If not, don’t push it. Getting caught drinking at work when your company has zero tolerance for even mild intoxication prior to and during office hours can hurt your career.

Drinking Etiquette at Work

So, your company allows you to knock back a beer at work? Well, count yourself blessed. That does not mean, though, that you will be guzzling bottle after bottle until you get wasted. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you remain in the good graces of your colleagues and employers even if you keep raiding the company bar.

1.      Set Your Limit

You should be aware of the effects of alcohol on your actions. If getting tipsy makes you clumsy or causes you to have an upset tummy, stop drinking before you reach that point. Don’t risk your image by having a third, fourth or fifth drink. Set your limit and stick to it. If you’re the type who can’t stop once you get started, then you might want to forego drinking altogether.

2.      Don’t Become Intoxicated

Drinking may be acceptable at your work, but you can’t use that as an excuse to be loose lipped and start airing grievances against the company or colleagues or telling inappropriate jokes. If you drink, make sure to zip your mouth shut. If you continue to embarrass yourself or you don’t remember your behaviour afterward, consider professional counselling.

3.      Say No to Drugs

Stay away from alcohol if you are taking depressants, sedatives or tranquilizers such as benzodiazepines or benzos, which are used to treat insomnia and anxiety. Some of the benzos which are commonly abused in conjunction with alcohol include Ativan, Xanax and Valium. Benzos magnify the effects of alcohol and can cause nausea, seizures, coma, and even death. Creative or not, you won’t be of any use to anyone if you’re dead, right?

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