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Story time: After a few shots of random bright coloured liquor, I once jokingly wanted to say the somewhat childish phrase “Stop, hou op, ik vind het niet leuk” to a good friend of mine. However, the words that left my mouth were “Stop, hou ik niet leuk... heh wacht. Wat?” Let us just say that the message did not come across. And who or what was to thank for this miscommunication? Of course, it is our dear friend... Alcohol!

Especially at Leiden University, students are a big fan of our so-called “borrelcultuur.” To some students, studying at Leiden University must feel like one big Oprah show: “You get a free drink! And you get a free drink! Everyone gets a free drink!” Did you have a successful committee meeting? Drinks! Did you pass your exam? Drinks! What should we organize to welcome new members for our student association or organization? Drinks! If you are lucky, the University or your professor will even pay them for you.

These drinking events are often considered very important, as they help students to create a network which they may find helpful later on during their (academic) career. Your fellow students may end up having very successful careers, or owning big companies, and befriending those students now may be useful to you in the long run. Though alcohol can help you pluck up the courage to talk to that fellow student, board member, or professor, it can backfire when your tongue suddenly becomes a bit too loose. When things get a little bit too “gezellig”, the awkward situation could occur when you want to say one thing, and somehow totally different words or sounds leave your mouth.

Though slurred speech is not a trustworthy intoxication indicator –as some of us can bluff our way through- it is considered a common side effect of alcohol consumption. But why do we mispronounce and mumble when we have drunk a little bit too much? According to Michaele P. Dunlap, author of Biological Impacts of Alcohol Use: An Overview, “speech becomes free and animated, social inhibitions may be forgotten, and the drinker can begin to act and feel more emotional.”1

Moreover, according to The Healthy Drinker Blog, “it does this by slowing brain activity, disturbing motor control (peripheral neuropathy), restricting blood flow to muscles and lowering inhibitions, which makes intoxicated people less worried about clearly enunciating their words.”2 According to Ben T. Smith, most studies on slurred speech caused by alcohol forget one important feature:

Something that isn’t mentioned [...] is what I find to be the most salient feature of ‘drunken speech:’ hypercorrection. Drunk people, aware of their intoxicated state, often overcompensate by overenunciating evvvveerrry ccconnnsonnantttt and vowel. Perhaps this relates to the higher rate of stuttering and stammering: when you put such pressure on yourself to pronounce everything perfectly, you’re bound to trip up!3

Luckily for us, in contrast to serious speech impediments such as Dysarthria, Aphasia, or Apraxia, slurred speech caused by alcohol does not last. Usually, you’ll be fine once you’ve sobered up a bit. On the long term, however, over-consuming alcohol on a regular basis can affect your speech as it damages the central nervous system. Only after a few years of sobriety, the affected areas return to normal as the cells are restored.4

From a personal point of view, I believe slurred speech can be both extremely frustrating and absolutely hilarious at the same time. Especially from a neurolinguistic point of view, it is fascinating to see how some parts of your brain temporarely seem to stop functioning altogether. But from a professional point of view, maybe think twice before you order a next glass of wine and say stuff like “Shumtimes when I have drinksh I jusht can’t feel my fashe” in front of either your peers or superiors.

by Jolijn Bronneberg



2. Ibid.