Suddenly sober

A situation I’m sure many of y’all have witnessed, but probably not all. What physiological thing is happening when a serious need to have it together occurs, like a shooting, or an accident, where someone is seriously hurt, or, perhaps, a fire and people who were moments before comfortably numb and a bit stupid from their imbibing of alcohol suddenly appear to be absolutely sober?

I’ve seen this a few times in my life, and it certainly does not happen in all people, as some of the drunks on scene remained so. But others appeared to be free and clear of the alcohol in a flash. Is this some effect of adrenalin? Or what?

Perhaps because the people who become suddenly sober aren’t as drunk as they thought they were?

Meaning, they felt drunk from the psychological effect of drinking, but their blood alcohol levels hadn’t gotten up high enough to really impair their behavior.

I googled up this article: Alcohol and it’s effect on behavior (warning: pdf)

In the article they talk about experiments that look at the psychological effects of alcohol:
“Research of this kind has shown that many of the effects once thought to result from alcohol - particularly the pleasant effects that people desire when they drink - are, in fact, the result of psychological expectancies rather than the drug.”


Interesting question. I do not know the answer. But I can relate to what it is you speak of. I have experienced this too. It’s instant clarity.

I’ve always assumed it was some kind of chemical reaction in the brain spawned by the survival instinct.

I remember during my youth having 3 0r 4 drinks in a club, and upon exiting feeling real ked up, though I wasn’t. I think the mixture of smoke, flashing lights, and LOUD music can disorientate a person and make them feel drunker than they really are. A sudden jolt back to reality by, say, a shooting or accident, may shock a person back to reality, especially if, likebuckgully** said, they aren’t as drunk as they thought they were.

pk, you seem to be supporting the “really wasn’t as stoned as you thought” explanation…as is buckgully. But I’m quite sure that your explanation won’t work…at least in my case.

Believe me…I’ve been under the influence of multiple intoxicants simultaneously (and in large quantity) and had this “instant sober”…so though some small portion of cases may be explained by the “wasn’t as stoned as you thought” theory, I’m quite sure that the REAL answer eludes us.

Perhaps adrenaline has some unkonwn effect upon the central nervous system. One in which the affect of adrenaline over rides the effects of other chemicals in the blood stream.

That is basically correct except that the effects of adrenaline ARE well known but this is still the key to the question. In short, alcohol is a Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressant. It slows down most CNS functions. Adrenaline has a largely opposite effect. It temporarily excites the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). This overrides or reverses many of alcohol’s effects temporarily

It’s almost certainly a function of adrenaline, or a related physiological system. If I had to guess, I’d say that adrenaline probably binds to many of the same receptors in the brain that alcohol does, and that it is likely a better binder than alcohol is (hence the override effect). This would make sense, since the best thing for an organism in a situation where immediate action is needed to avoid death, you would want the applicable chemical to be able to bypass whatever else is currently working on the brain.