Alcohol Myth Buster – Do We Drink For The Taste?

Alcohol use comes with many assumptions and myths. One of the most popular is the idea that we like the taste of alcohol. Let’s explore this and find out – do we drink for the taste?

we drink for the taste

The Unconscious Mind & Alcohol Addiction: We Drink For The Taste

LiminalPoints

Continuing the Unconscious Mind & Alcohol Addiction Series I will use Liminal Thinking to shine the light of conscious thought on ingrained (unconscious) beliefs about alcohol. In post #1 we discussed how our experiences and observations affect our unconscious mind and our desire to drink. Since it is impossible to notice, experience or observe everything we unconsciously put our experiences and observations through a lens of things that are important (relevant) to us. From these relevant experiences and observations, we will make assumptions, and from those assumptions, we will draw conclusions. From the conclusions, we will have formed our beliefs. Once we’ve established a more detailed framework of why you believe what you believe I will take you through another perspective, one that may be closer to reality. I will do this in narrative form because it is more effective in speaking to your unconscious and makes for more engaging reading. In this manner, we will go beneath the surface of your conscious and deconstruct your current beliefs about alcohol.

Note: with each Liminal Point we will go through these same steps so you may want to mark this post and refer back to it throughout the series of posts.

Liminal Point: Do We Drink for the Taste?

“Recovery is all about using our power to change our beliefs that are based on faulty data.” – Kevin McCormack

Before you ever drank a drop you observed everyone around you drinking, and seeming to enjoy the taste of alcohol. Yet your early experience probably contradicted that belief, kids generally don’t like their first sip of alcohol. Since you continue to observe others around you drinking you assume that there must be something incredibly good and beneficial about drinking despite the taste. You conclude that you should persevere in drinking; you may even be told you need to ‘acquire the taste’. Over time you do indeed acquire a taste for alcohol. Now your experience is in line with your observations and you can more easily conclude that indeed alcohol tastes good and you do, in fact, drink because you like the taste.

Let’s consider reality:

You Just Have to Acquire the Taste

This justification is the great deceit that lures new drinkers into the trap. When we take our first sips and almost gag, there’s always someone there to reassure us that alcohol is an acquired taste.

But, let’s consider again our incredible body, whose purpose is to ensure our survival. We know that we need food and water to survive, and if we don’t eat and drink, we will die. Other animals are not consciously aware of this, so how does nature make sure they eat and drink? Instinctually, they feel hunger and thirst.

We know that certain things are poison because we are told so or because the label says so. How does a deer know what is poison, which grasses to eat, and which will make her sick? It’s a genius aspect of their design, yet quite simple: grasses that deer are meant to eat smell and taste nice while the grasses that will make the deer sick smell and taste bad.

Our sense of smell and taste are vital to our well-being. They help us distinguish between good and rotten food. The products in our refrigerators may have expiration dates, but our own ability to smell when meat is rotten, or taste spoiled milk, is much more sophisticated than the arbitrary dates placed on foods. These senses ensure our survival.

The Poison We Ingest

I was recently in Brazil and there are huge signs selling ethanol at the gas stations. You may be surprised to know that the ethanol in gasoline is the exact same ethanol in the liquor you drink. Yep, alcohol, without additives, is ethanol. Not only does pure alcohol taste awful, but a very small amount will kill you. We have to use extensive processes and additives to make it taste good enough to drink. Unfortunately, none of these processes reduce the harm associated with drinking gasoline.

Alcohol destroys our health by attacking our liver and immune system and is related to more than 60 diseases[ii]. Yet because we are only peripherally aware of the harms, but very familiar with the pro-alcohol social message, we are forced to justify our drinking often saying the reason we drink is for the taste. And we believe this is true. Humans have an uncanny ability to unknowingly lie to ourselves.

Imagine a college kid drinking one of his first beers at a football game. It is cheap and warm, so you know it almost certainly does not taste good. You are fairly sure he would rather be drinking a soda. If you ask him why he isn’t drinking a soda, he will probably tell you he likes the taste of his beer. The true answer is, he wants to fit in, and only kids drink soda during football games. He cannot admit this, and might not even realize it, so he tells you he likes the taste. This does not sync with reality as you watch him choke the beer down.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves (Like We Drink For The Taste…)

If you ask him a few months later, at the homecoming game, he will again tell you he likes it. Since he has been drinking for a few months the answer may hold some truth. He has started to acquire the taste. And since the alcohol is addictive, it has created an imperceptible craving for itself, which, when satisfied, gives him the perception of enjoyment.[iii]

I don’t know anyone who drank so many sodas they puked. Yet, how many people do you know who have drunk enough to throw up? Even the most moderate drinkers I know occasionally take it too far. Throwing up is a miserable experience. Miserable, but when you think about it, actually incredible. In the case of alcohol, throwing up literally saves our lives. Could there be a clearer signal that you are doing something to your body that you shouldn’t? Yet we are not deterred. We carry on thinking of our nights “worshiping the porcelain gods” as a badge of honor. It’s college after all, and we are determined to acquire a taste for booze.

Finally, you actually like the taste of alcohol, but the nature, and taste, of alcohol itself, has not changed. It is still the same chemical that is in your gas tank. It is still destroying your liver, your immune system, and your brain. The taste doesn’t actually change—that’s impossible. It’s only our perception of the taste that changes.

Acquired Immunity

Think of the guy who seems to shower in cologne. You can smell him coming from a mile away, yet he is completely unaware. It’s the same concept. I went to school in an agricultural town that was surrounded by ranches and farms. If you have ever driven by a pig farm you know the smell is intense. After a few months there, I couldn’t smell it at all. It’s remarkable how, given enough time, senses become immune to the most unpleasant things.

There’s no doubt that alcohol tastes bad, why else would we need to go to such great lengths to make it palatable with mixers and sweeteners. You may be a manly type who loves whisky neat. I am fairly certain that you didn’t start that way. You acquired a taste for whisky like I acquired a smell for pig shit. You could think of it as Mother Nature’s gift to us, allowing things to become tolerable. Perhaps she believes that I had no choice but to live near the pig farms and that you have no choice but to ingest poison.

Do you really drink just because of the taste?

It Enhances the Taste of Food

Another justification is that certain pairings of food and wine enhance each other’s flavor. Food being enhanced by a particular drink makes sense when you think about milk and cookies. You actually take a cookie and dip it into milk, truly changing the texture and flavor of the cookie. I can understand how this could enhance the taste. But you don’t put wine in your mouth with your steak, so how can it possibly change the way food tastes? Not to mention it’s been medically proven that alcohol actually deadens your taste buds rather than increases their sensitivity.[iv]

Now, I admit the flavor of wine can be great in sauces, but so can just about anything depending on what else it is mixed with. A popular cooking show forces chefs to cook with all types of strange and nasty ingredients in order to make them palatable. I find it strange that with the thousands of beverages in existence, we only use this excuse with alcohol. We don’t hear people claiming they drink a Coke because it enhances the flavor of their hot dog. It strikes me, as a marketer, that this is a genius marketing tactic. If we can marry the product (alcohol) with the genuine pleasures of eating, we have a much higher chance of selling a glass of wine, at its incredibly high markup, every time we sell a steak. And we fully buy into the illusory benefits of wine pairings.

Justifying Why We Drink

Conversations justifying why we drink happen all the time. We don’t sit around justifying other things we like, like why we eat grapefruit. Yet when you turn down an alcoholic drink, it seems everyone around you launches into a diatribe explaining in painful detail all the reasons they are drinking. If you pay attention you will start to notice how conversations about alcohol are not balanced. When eating a doughnut we will probably mention the calorie count or how much sugar it has. And for good reason, it helps us limit ourselves to just one. Yet when discussing alcohol you never hear someone say, “This booze is delicious. It enhances the taste of my food, but I do worry about liver damage.”

Why is this? Why do we group together and chat up the great things about drinking? It’s so we can collectively close our eyes to the dangers. Herd mentality makes it is easier to believe or do something because everyone else is saying or doing the same thing. This is exactly what happens when people start to talk about the “full-bodied, oaky, lemony, exaggerated, pompous yet fruity” flavor of a Cabernet.[v]

Further, at least when it comes to wine, there is actual proof that no one can actually tell the difference between good wines and cheap wines. The American Association of Wine Economists did a study of more than 6,000 wine drinkers. In these blind taste tests, wine drinkers were unable to distinguish expensive wines from cheap wines. In fact, the majority claimed to prefer the cheap wines.[vi] You might be amused to know that the same association conducted a study two years later and found that people are also unable to differentiate Pâté from dog food.[vii]

I Drink to Quench My Thirst

“How can I be so thirsty this morning when I drank so much last night.” -Anon

One of the factors that makes a cold beer taste good on a hot day is the idea that it is quenching our thirst. And in fact, beer is about 96% water and 4% alcohol so it’s logical to conclude the water content in beer should quench your thirst. Yet alcohol is a diuretic, a substance that eliminates water from your system by making you pee. The beer not only sucks away 96% of water but depletes your body’s water content. That’s why you wake up in the middle of the night with incredible thirst after a bout of drinking. Your mouth is parched, and you feel like you are dying for a glass of water. Dehydration from drinking can actually shrink your brain. Research shows that dehydration affects not only the size of your brain but its ability to function.[viii] This means that after one drink you are actually thirstier, and that makes it easier for the next pint to go down. You probably wouldn’t drink a six-pack of soda, yet we do that with beer all the time. The more our thirst increases the more we believe the next beer tastes better because of the illusion it is quenching our thirst. Not to mention the alcohol is addictive and your taste buds are becoming numb.[ix] You want more. What genius product marketing.

Closed To The Dangers of Drinking

I closed my mind to the dangers of drinking. I went to great lengths to justify drinking and encouraged others to drink with me. Drinking with other people seemed more fun, but I now see it was less stressful. It’s not drinking alone, as in when we are by ourselves that bothers us. It’s drinking by ourselves, in the company of other people who are not drinking that makes us question our choice. When no one else is drinking you feel quite dumb standing around drinking something that is making you lose control of your faculties. If everyone is doing it, even if it goes against your rational and logical judgment, you don’t have to come up with reasons to justify your drinking. If everyone is doing it, there must be good reasons—it must not be that bad. It’s amazing how far we will go to delude ourselves. Tell a lie long enough and convincingly enough, and even the liar will believe it.

Still Thinking We Drink For The Taste?

Wondering what other myths we still believe about alcohol? Start reading This Naked Mind to bust them all! Download a sample right now!

Carr, Allen. The Easy Way toThe Easy Way Stop Drinking. (2003) Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.
Kraft, S. (2011, February 11). “WHO Study: Alcohol Is International Number One Killer, AIDS Second.” Medical News Today.
Vale, Jason Kick The Drink …Easily (1999) Crown House Publishing Ltd.
Goldstein, R., Almenberg, J., Dreber, A., Emerson, J., Herschkowitsch, A., & Katz, J. (2008, April 18). AAWE Working Paper No. 16 Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better? Evidence From a Large Sample of Blind Tastings (V. Ginsburgh, Ed.).
Bohannon, J. Goldstein, R. & Herschkowitsch, A. (2009, April) AAWE Working Paper No. 16 Can People Distinguish PÂtÉ From Dog Food? (V. Ginsburgh, Ed.). Retrieved August 12, 2015, from
Kempton, M., Ettinger, U., Foster, R., Williams, S., Calert, G., Hampshire, A., . . . Smith, M. (2010). Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents.