What is so great about intoxication?

Intoxication is not without its benefits.  A blood alcohol level of .05 may help an inhibited person perform more effectively in social situations.  On the other hand, intoxication is implicated in 65% of murders, 88% of knifings, 65% of spouse battering, 55% of violent child abuse. 

Intoxication is rewarding for precisely the same reason it produces suffering - it diminishes the influence of remote stimuli.  According to the Attention Allocation Model proposed by Steele and Josephs1: intoxication reduces cognitive capacity, thereby limiting attention to the immediate environment.  Remote stimuli such as moral concerns or fear of consequences do not get processed, and so are not available to exert an inhibitory influence.   This shortsightedness - Alcohol Induced Myopia - is responsible for alcohol beneficial and destructive effects.

It is not that intoxication produces pleasant moods or destructive behaviors directly, rather it releases processes that otherwise would have been inhibited.  When the immediate stimuli elicit violence and remote stimuli inhibit it, alcohol intoxication releases violence; when the immediate circumstances elicit helpfulness, intoxication promotes uninhibited helping behavior.  In both cases the intoxicated person is disproportionally influenced by the most attention grabbing features of the local environment. 



Rewarding aspects of alcohol induced myopia:
  • Self-inflation - Favorable self-images of power, sexuality, etc., are not inhibited by abstract principals, or previous negative experiences.

  • Relief - Escape from worry and conflict is possible, because the limited cognitive resources of an intoxicated person are easily preoccupied.  Lacking the resources to process remote information, the intoxicated person is blind to worries and conflicts. 

Myopia, which is responsible for the benefits of intoxication, is also responsible for its terrible costs.  When the immediate circumstances arouse an unfavorable self-image, myopia releases self-loathing.  Now remote stimuli that might balance extreme negative feelings, or inhibit irreversible behaviors are not available.  As a consequence, irretrievable actions may be released.

Myopia increases with dose. The more alcohol consumed, the greater is the myopia, and hence the greater the dis-inhibition However, even when not intoxicated, humans tend to be myopic.  Alcoholics lapse even though they know better, because immediate circumstances has a greater influence on behavior than distant consequences.