No kidding. After the scientists went home on a Friday, some lab rats decided to get down and do some partying. Who knows? After a full 40 hour work week of being tested, poked, examined and observed the rats might have felt that they deserved a break whoop it up on the weekend from those humans during the work week. So, did they actually have a Happy Hour instinct or some kind of internal seven day calendar?
Some researchers stumbled across this boozing instinct while studying the effects of stress and drinking habits of rats. Scientists from the Department of Experimental Pharmacology at the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education found that:
“The rats clearly preferred plain water except on weekends when they went on real alcoholic binges. This was perplexing at first but it was noted that the automatic time switch on the lights was out of order and the rats were being left in continuous darkness over weekends.
Another second study kept a group of laboratory rats in total darkness without subjecting them to any anxiety stress. Their preference switched to alcohol and water instead of plain water. [i]”
Hence, rats, like humans, who hang out in dark areas, like bars, tend to naturally drink more alcohol. This is nothing new. Many people drink more during the dark winter months. It is not just the boredom of those lonely days without sunlight. The lack of light, period, that makes a rat or human want to drink alcohol.
Dr. Irving Geller, Chairman of the Department, referred to this as ‘darkness-induced drinking phenomenon.’ He based his studies on the 1963 by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Julius Axelrod. Axelrod who found that the rat pineal gland produced more melatonin during the dark nighttime period than when it was light.
Dr. Geller then gave injections of pineal melatonin to rats kept on a regular light-dark cycle and not subjected to any anxiety. The injections alone turned these rats into alcoholics.
So people packing this extra melatonin charge might be more prone to drinking than the average person or someone in a sunnier environment.
This writer knows from living in the frozen prairies that the winter months can get depressing when one is stuck indoors most of the time and do not see much of the light of day. I found that regular outdoor activity and some time in a sun tanning booth helped energize me. This also worked when I was working during graveyard shifts. I was able to stay off of the booze.
So, instead of being down on yourself for “winter blues” boozing, see if you feel better using full spectrum light at work and home, sun tanning sessions or better yet, a vacation to a sunnier climate. You should feel healthier for it in the long run.
[i] McGrath Re, Yahia, M, “Preliminary Data on Seasonally Related Alcohol Dependence,” Department of Psychology, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, N.J. 07666. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 1993 Jul, 54:7, 260–2. Study done with Ken Blum, PhD.