Alcohol May Calm Your Nerves for a Speech – But Harm Your Performance

Posted on July 15, 2017

Having an alcoholic drink before giving a speech is tempting. The alcohol seems to calm your nerves, making you feel more relaxed. However, a new study has found that while alcohol has a calming effect, it actually impairs performance.

The study was conducted by Stephan Stevens and colleagues with two groups of young adults. The first group met the criteria for social anxiety while the other did not. Participants were placed randomly into three groups – 1) Alcohol group who drank three vodka orange juices to reach a blood alcohol concentration of 0.07 percent, 2) Placebo group who thought they were drinking orange juice with vodka, 3) Baseline group who knew they drank pure orange juice. Participants delivered a three-minute speech on the death penalty with an audience of two people. Anxiety levels were recorded before, during and after the speech.

Participants with social anxiety who drank alcohol felt the least nervous during and after the speech, compared to the baseline and even placebo group. While they felt less nervous, their speeches had worse ratings. Non-anxious control participants in the alcohol group also had poor ratings, suggesting that having just some alcohol can hinder mental processes necessary to deliver a good speech.

Participants in the placebo condition were more nervous than the alcohol group, but less nervous than the baseline group. They had worse ratings than participants in the baseline group, but better than those in the alcohol group. This suggests that the effect alcohol has may be partly due to expectations.

Stevens and colleagues suggests that a vicious cycle is created due to the impaired performance level alcohol causes. Anxious people reduce anxiety by drinking alcohol, which impedes performance. This makes them even more nervous for the next speech, where they would want to drink again.

Category(s):Social Anxiety / Phobia

Source material from The British Psychological Society