The Scent Of Alcohol Can Lower Inhibition, According To New Research

It's common knowledge that consuming alcohol makes you less conscious of your behavior — but new research is showing that the scent of alcohol can lower your inhibitions, too. In a new study published by the journal Psychopharmacology, it appears that there's a correlation between the scent of alcohol and self-control. What this means is that there could be another stimulus that accounts for why people find it so hard not to drink while in the presence of alcohol, and of course, a psychological reason why people become reckless after having consumed it.

In the study, psychologists used 40 people who drink socially, between the ages of 19 and 48. Each participant got a mask, which was soaked in a solution. Half of the masks were soaked in vodka, and the others were soaked in citrus oil. While wearing the masks, the participants undertook a go/no-go association task (GNAT), a computer game designed to measure implicit social cognition and unconscious responses. During the game, some participants were shown letters of the alphabet and told to push the button when they saw the letter "K." Others had to look for a beer bottle amid photos of water bottles.

The results showed that the people who were looking for the beer bottle were better at restraining themselves than those looking for the letter "K." However, the participants that had the vodka-soaked masks displayed a significantly lower amount of impulse control than those with the citrus. The researchers argue that if just the smell of booze is enough to lower inhibitions, it's not a surprise that alcoholism is so difficult to overcome. Though it was a small study, it presents important information regarding alcohol and substance abuse. "Our hope is that by increasing our understanding of how context shapes substance-use behaviors, we will be able to make interventions more sensitive to the different situations in which people consume substances," wrote co-author Derek Heim.

"This research is a first attempt to explore other triggers, such as smell, that may interfere with people's ability to refrain from a particular behavior,” co-author Rebecca Monk added. "For example, during the experiment, it seemed that just the smell of alcohol was making it harder for participants to control their behavior to stop pressing a button.”

So while conclusions can only be preliminary for now, it does say something about the way we process things holistically. Whether by sight, smell, or even taste, our cognition associates certain things with certain behaviors, and we operate on autopilot. It's something to consider in terms of how you structure your days and what your habits consist of. A lot of your impulses may be just pre-programmed responses.

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