Why can we end up dancing on the table when drunk?

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This is due to an excess of the happy neurotransmitter, GABA.  As the video states, the two major neurotransmitters that are either excitatory or inhibitory are Glutamate and GABA.  Alcohol acts at the GABA receptors in the brain and does indeed make us calmer and happier – and wobblier.  Some of these GABA receptors are in the frontal lobe, an area important for making good social decisions.  As alcohol logs into the area, we lose our normal inhibitions and can end up making inappropriate emotional expressions.  A point to bear in mind when wondering whether to send that e-mail or not when under the influence. An excess of GABA also leads to a loss of co-ordination and increasing sedation hence why dancing on the table whilst pissed can lead very easily to falling off the table or falling asleep whilst on the job. 1

Without GABA as a balance, nerve cells fire too easily leading to an excess of glutamate, the major excitatory neurotransmitter.  Since coffee lowers GABA production, the feeling of too much glutamate is what we feel if we drink more coffee than we are used to: jittery, anxious.  High glutamate levels lead to anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, addictions, headaches, inability to think calmly and poor sleep patterns.  The drugs prescribed to raise GABA are the benzodiazepines and the barbiturates, so care has to be taken if trying to come off these drugs.  It will be a delicate balancing act of restoring GABA naturally whilst reducing the dependency on these drugs.

Glutamate is made in the body from other amino acids which will be broken down and recombined to form glutamic acid. Glutamate can also be manufactured in the form of MSG – monosodium glutamate – and so eating MSG in a meal can make us jittery since it will directly raise glutamate levels.  The body converts glutamate into glutamine2 and then to GABA using various other nutrients like vitamin B6, zinc, magnesium.  Taking the amino acid Glutamine will increase GABA levels, particularly if there is a good intake of these other nutrients.

Glutamine is a very interesting amino acid worthy of a blog itself.  It is abundant in food, especially meat, but it is inactivated by cooking, so is best taken in supplement form if trying to reduce anxiety levels or stop cravings.  The following things will also raise GABA: valerian, American Ginseng (impossibly difficult to get hold of), Kava Kava, the smell of whiskey aged in oak barrels and the smell of oolong tea, serotonin and green tea.3

The above video is very informative but rather confusing half way through when he starts talking about post synaptic receptors etc.  If interested in understanding him, the youtube clip below will help.  And it may just be worth having a look at the foot notes.

  1. In order to get an erection and ejaculation to work satisfyingly is a complex series of events which, simplified, mean that in order for the penis to get an erection, the man has to be happy and relaxed to allow the necessary blood flow.  As events proceed, the man gets more and more excited until – kaboom – he gets so excited, he ejaculates.  So if there is an excess of GABA from an excess of alcohol, he just cannot get excited enough to finish the job off.  If there is an excess of glutamate from stress, he can’t begin the job. OK, doesn’t explain everything, but covers much male misery -and female too. []
  2. well, it is all much more complex than this – please click on this Wiki link to see the glutamate-glutamine conversion []
  3. Another player in the glutamate/GABA balance is a different calming neurotransmitter, taurine.  But taurine itself is worthy of a separate blog. []

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