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alcohol + heat = good buzz September 17, 2006

Posted by Brad Richert in science.

Scientists have confirmed what every university student already knew: drinking booze in the heat will get you drunk quicker than in a cold atmosphere.

The reason alcohol makes us drunk in the first place is because ethanol makes its way into cell membranes and increases its fluidicity. This distorts the normal function of the cell and gives us the buzz that we all love and cherish.

Using fruit flies as test subjects, scientists explain that the fluidity of a cell’s membranes is also effected by temperature. Just like they taught us in Grade 4 science, cooler temperature solidifies (remember those analogies of the atoms that were so cold they couldn’t move, but the hot ones were burning so they bounced all over the place?). Cell membranes, the scientists continue to explain, produces fatty acids in the cold in order to keep the membranes from getting “rigid”. These acids are regulated by the same proteins that are involved with ethanol detox. Fancy that.

Since most university students were too drunk to perform the tests on, the scientists needed to use fruit flies for the test. Fruit flies usually get their alcohol intake from rotting fruit, which may explain why soaking fruit with vodka and/or rum before eating gets you hammered so quickly. The poor flies would be tested by seeing how much ethanol it would take to kill them (which is probably why they did not use university students). The flies that were bred in 15°C (59°F) weather were exchanges with flies bred in 26°C (79°F) weather. The cold-to-warm flies’ alcohol tolerance dropped from 13.2% to 8.8%. The warm-to-cold flies’ alcohol tolerance increased from 12.3% to 15.2% (that is, the percentage of ethanol in the solution needed to kill half of them in 48 hours). This explains why drinkers from California are no match for us beer-guzzling Canadians. Eh.

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