Booze and volatility

Another of those things I’ve been intending to write for a really long time. Occasionally when I’m not feeling too good mentally, people ask me to go have a drink telling me that everything will be alright. However, given my limited experience in this I’m not too confident it will work. In fact, the only one time I tried drowning my sorrows in alcohol (this was over four years ago) I ended up feeling significantly worse, worse enough to have not tried it since.

The thing with booze is that it increases the volatility of your state of mind. This means that it will flatten out the curve according to which your mental state moves. So after you’ve had a drink or few, you are unlikely to remain in the same state that you were in that you started off at. You end up feeling either significantly better or significantly worse – and the chances of both these go up tremendously when you drink.

I know I have been so far acting based on one data point that went adversely, but I don’t know what causes the selection bias in people who have been through both sides significantly! Of feeling much worse and feeling much better after having some drinks. Why is it that even though all of them would’ve been through significantly worse after drinking at some point of time or the other, they tend to forget about it and only think of the times when they’ve felt better?

Is it that whether you feel good or not is some kind of a binary payoff depending upon the level of the state of mind (basically state of mind < cutoff => “bad”; state of mind >= cutoff implies “good”)? If this is true, then whenever you are “out of the money” (feeling bad), you dont’ really care if you go even more out of the money – your overall feeling doesn’t change by much. And so you don’t really mind the cases when the alcohol starts making you feel significantly worse. But then the barrier is ahead of you so by increasing volatility, you are giving yourself a better chance of surmounting the barrier so drinking makes sense! But then under this condition it doesn’t make sense to drink at all when you’re already feeling good!

Are there any other reasons you can think of for this selection bias? Why do people give more benefits to positive movement in state of mind as a function of drinking than to negative movement in state of mind? Or is it that volatility is a non-intuitive concept and “there’s a better chance you’ll feel better if you drink” is a simple way of communicating it? And let me know your experience about drink making you feel worse..

5 thoughts on “Booze and volatility”

  1. drinking just amplifies our emotions and not all emotions but only current emotions. So if ur sad it makes u very sad, and ur happy u get very happy. But if u r very sad, then all u need is for somebody to crack a joke and ur current emotion becomes happy which is amplified.
    Also drinking takes u to some parts of ur brain/some threads of thot u wudn normally go to. hence i think ppl lik to go back n drink inspite of the fact that it cud turn out worse. i haven smoked up much but i have few times. The thot process is my head is very very interesting. I wna smoke up n blog sometim

  2. You might be interested in checking out Gladwell’s article on the sociology of drinking (sadly behind the NYer paywall).

    In it he posits a “myopia theory” of drinking which implies that the thoughts that are in the foreground of the mind while drinking get amplified letting the rest fall away. It may explain why the end result of drinking may make you feel better or worse, depending on what was on your mind when you went about the whole process.

  3. I think its a lot to do with the individual and what he chooses to do. I’m of the belief that any non-reflex reaction is an option chosen by the individual. When you are really really drunk (beyond threshold but before puke-point), then the reflex action is muted. At that point, I’ve done several arbit things – blabbered, blacked out, danced, scolded someone. And, I’ve figured that the reaction at that stage depends on a lot of subliminal thoughts which run through your mind – day in and day out.
    Any action before the threshold is a joke to be discussed. Its a conscious choice.

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