Why You Get So Freaking Hungry When You're Wasted

Science explains all.

26/08/2016 11:39 AM AEST | Updated 26/08/2016 3:11 PM AEST

Back in the 'pre-lock-out-law' era, there was a very good reason Kings Cross Macca's did such a roaring trade on Friday and Saturday nights (or, technically, Saturday and Sunday mornings).

It all comes down the phenomenon known as being 'drunk hungry', which Urban Dictionary helpfully defines as "the hunger brought on by consuming large volumes of alcohol. Thought of being one of the highest forms of hunger".

Surely right up there with the munchies, drunk hunger is a very real thing, usually found to rear its head once the pub's kitchen is long closed, or, for the fancier ones among us, once the canapes have done their final rounds for the night.

So what exactly drunk hunger and what exactly causes it? (Well, alcohol, obviously -- but why?)


Basically, the reason you eat too much when you're drunk comes back to the same reason you make a lot of bad drunken decisions: the disinhibition effect.

"Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and the centres in the brain which are inhibitory are the first ones which get depressed," Professor Michael Cowley, director of the Monash Obesity and Diabetes Institute told The Huffington Post Australia.

"I'd say the primary driver of over eating when intoxicated comes down to the fact our filters are off."

It's a theory that's supported by Professor Kypros Kypri of the University of Newcastle's School of Medicine and Public Health, though he ventures there is a chance alcohol could actually make you hungrier, as well.

"There is experimental evidence showing that alcohol consumption stimulates appetite," Kypri told HuffPost Australia.

"It is unclear to what extent increased eating while intoxicated is due to the stimulation of appetite versus the disinhibiting effect of alcohol whereby people are less able to resist impulses to eat, have sex, behave obnoxiously, or even fight. Possibly both are in play."

Scott MacBride
It is no coincidence this drunk man is covered in chips.

Cowley also suggests some of our drunken food cravings are not actually the result of any time of biochemical reaction but common cultural practices.

"One of the classic syndromes [of overeating and drinking] is wanting to have a hamburger, or bacon and eggs and a chocolate milk the next day," Cowley said.

"That's widespread here but I don't know how validated it is across other cultures. Cultural norms can actually be quite a strong influence when it comes to influencing our behaviour.

"I suppose, when you think about it, when you drink you are consuming lots of very simple carbohydrates -- essentially it's a lot like drinking sugary water.

"There can be as many as 700 calories in a bottle of white wine, which is a significant amount if you take into account the recommended calorie intake for women is roughly 2000-2500 per day.

"Those calories all end up in the liver, which takes in the sugar and makes a compound called glycogen. When it does that, it can change the way the liver suctions. I suppose that could lead to some of the cravings people talk about when drinking, but in reality I can't provide a good biochemical reaction or explanation.

"I suspect it's more cultural."

Tara Moore
Roadside servo donut? Deeeeelish.

In case you missed Cowley's point, alcohol is fattening. So not only are you craving more food, you're actually already consuming quite a few calories as it is.

Kypri goes as far to say "there is a good chance that people's drinking is contributing to the increased prevalence of overweight and obesity".

Even worse, despite a lack of evidence supporting claims as to why we crave particular types of food when drunk, it's pretty common knowledge you're unlikely to be hanging out for a kale salad after too many pints at the pub.

"At the end of the day, I think the overeating that comes with excessive drinking really comes down to the fact the person drinking has less inhibition than when they're not," Cowley said.

"And when people have a drink, they want what they like, and they often like what they can see. And if that's a meat pie, it's a meat pie. If you're at home, it's likely to be whatever is in the fridge.

"Essentially, drinking helps you make bad decisions, and I suspect probably increases the palatability of fatty and salty foods."

Which we're taking as Science Speak for, "and THAT is why you will find yourself stumbling through Macca's barefoot on a Saturday night. The end".

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