Alcohol As a Drug: Intoxication

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Alcohol is a drug: it alters the operation of the various tissues into which it diffuses. We value it most for its influence on the central nervous system, where it acts as a narcotic. The fact that it seems to stimulate more animated, excited behavior than usual is actually a symptom of its depressant effect on the higher functions of the brain, those that normally control our behavior with various kinds of inhibition. As more alcohol reaches the brain, it interferes with more basic processes: memory, concentration, and thinking in general; muscular coordination, speech, vision. With regard to the idea that alcohol is an aphrodisiac, modern investigators continue to cite the authority of the Porter in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who says of drink that “Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes: it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.”