One of my favorite delights in this mortal coil is crawling into bed, slapping on my headphones and browsing YouTube for some ASMR video where a beautiful woman pretends to be nice to me. One of my other favorite delights, though, is getting my buzz on during the weekends. Unfortunately, these two practices aren’t totally compatible: Whenever I’ve had a few drinks, the tingly effects of ASMR simply aren’t there.
This inability to experience ASMR while drunk or intoxicated by other substances has been shared by numerous people on the r/ASMR subreddit. “On alcohol, I get a kind of deadening effect,” explained u/featherrocketship back in 2014. “It seems like I can focus on the triggers just fine, but I have a similar experience to when I’ve listened to the same video over and over again: The things that usually trigger just don’t seem to work as often as they should nor do I get very strong tingles when they do work.”
To understand precisely why this happens, we need to understand why some people experience ASMR in the first place. The problem, though, is that we don’t. Despite sounding rather scientific, the term ASMR, an acronym for autonomous sensory meridian response, was actually coined by a manager for a cybersecurity company in 2010 who was recreationally involved in the online community surrounding the sensation. There have been a few small academic studies about ASMR conducted since, but all they’ve concluded is that some people find ASMR to be pleasant and that watching ASMR videos triggers the same regions of the brain as when a person is being groomed or cared for.
In other words, we still don’t know exactly what’s happening when a person experiences ASMR, or why some don’t seem to experience or enjoy it at all. But given what we know about alcohol and its depressive effects upon the body, it’s likely that alcohol can inhibit our brain’s ability to experience ASMR, just as it can slow your nervous system and reaction time.
Making this phenomena even more confusing are the claims from some on r/ASMR that their tingling experience is actually heightened when they’re drunk. “I have always had an intensified experience while under the influence of alcohol and often experience ASMR while drunk even under circumstances in which I do not normally experience ASMR,” wrote u/we_are_compromised in 2017. Others have reported similar effects while high on weed, stimulants or even after smoking a cigarette.
Given how personal and varying ASMR can be while sober, it’s not entirely a surprise that people’s experience can differ according to substance, too. And considering how far we are from having a concrete scientific explanation for ASMR at all, it will probably be a while before researchers drill down to the drug and alcohol effects upon it. For now, though, I’ll likely continue to watch ASMR while tipsy, feeling nothing but jealousy for the people whose ASMR allegedly doubles when drunk.