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Yo Ho Ho (and a Bottle of Rum)

By Laurence Barrett

One silver lining to the clouds of 2020 for the Heresy team, has been the rise in rum sales across the UK…to which at least two of us have contributed! Between April and June 2020, the Wine and Spirits Association of the UK was pleased to announce that an extra 1.3 million bottles of rum were consumed, an increase of 38% against the previous year which generated over £119m in revenue. Rum has now edged closer to whisky, vodka and gin in value terms and continues to build on its growth from previous years. In 2017 rum sales in the UK hit £1bn for the first time.

The industry was keen to suggest that rum reminded people of the tropics and sunny days on the beach and was a great antidote to lockdown. We were reminded of some research published by the BMJ in 2017 which suggested that people attached different emotions to different alcoholic drinks. Their choice of which alcohol to drink is based not simply on taste, but on an expectation that that particular drink will help them achieve a particular goal. People want to feel uplifted and they seem to believe rum will help them get there. But can different drinks really influence your mood in different ways? It’s all the same stuff.

When you have a drink, ethanol enters the bloodstream and is then processed in the liver. The liver can process only a small amount of alcohol at a time so any excess remains in the blood, and when it reaches the brain it affects your psychology, including your emotional state. At this point

the ethanol has the same chemistry, regardless of the form in which it was delivered, and there is no evidence that different types of alcohol cause different mood states. People aren’t even very good at recognising their mood states when they have been drinking. Feeling positive emotions may of course in part be related to the promotion of positive experiences by advertising and the media, but this does little to explain the experience of negative emotions such as aggression or sadness, given that these are not generally promoted as outcomes from the drinks in question. So where does this all start? The feeling toned complex of beliefs

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist suggested that the mind was made up of ‘complexes’, each of which is an accumulation of emotions, memories, associations and symbols which build up over time and form the basis of our personalities. These complexes shape the decisions of our rational minds in a process termed ‘apperception’, where we make sense of something using the body of ideas that we already possess, including our underlying feelings. Complexes are in essence small, secondary personalities hiding behind our rational mind, which guide us with small whispers and occasionally (in the right circumstances) with loud shouts and hard shoves.

Given the right stimuli the feelings wrapped up in a complex, surface and find expression. Sometimes they may even take over our rational minds for a time, causing us to behave in surprising and unpredictable ways…and alcohol oils the wheels. So if wine makes you relaxed, it’s probably because you associate it with slow sipping in a calm and relaxed atmosphere. If tequila makes you crazy, it may be because you have memories of drinking it in shots during wild nights out in student dives. When lockdown reminds us that we are sad, we may find ways to reconnect with memories which make us happy…and nothing says sunshine and a beach like a shot of rum over ice, perhaps with a dash of ginger beer.

We build conscious and unconscious associations between alcohol and our emotions every time we drink or see someone else drinking, and associate it with our existing complexes. We could even be influenced by music and art, as for the author at least, nothing says rock and roll excess like Jack Daniels. So does alcohol make you crazy, mean or sad? What we chose to drink is a little message from our unconscious mind. If you believe it enough it may just come true. One side note from the research which was interesting was that, with the exception of feeling aggressive, women were significantly more likely than men to notice and name their emotions as a result of drinking any type of alcohol. Make of that what you will.



  • Ashton, K., Bellis M.A., Davies A.R., Hughes, K and Winstock A. (2017) Do emotions related to alcohol consumption differ by alcohol type? An international cross-sectional survey of emotions associated with alcohol consumption and influence on drink choice in different settings. BMJ Open. 7(10).


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