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Can Hamsters Get Drunk?

Approximately 20% of the alcohol we consume is absorbed through the stomach and the remaining 80% is absorbed in the small intestine. The liver metabolizes the alcohol with the enzymes present thus breaking it down. The key to understanding the effects of alcohol lies in the comprehension of its metabolism rate. It varies from different species.

Apart from being adorable, your average hamster’s liver processes alcohol quite efficiently thus their tolerance to alcohol is insane. It is basically impossible to get them drunk. A study showed that hamsters could easily outdrink a common lab rat.

The Hamster’s Alcohol Tolerance

For several years, researchers have known that hamsters are fond of alcohol. Most woodland creatures eat fruit, nuts, and seeds that have fermented naturally.

Golden hamsters have been shown to have an amusingly high tolerance to alcohol. In more recent researches done on dwarf hamsters at the University of Alaska Anchorage, this theory was tested to see if they would respond the same way as the golden hamsters. Gwen Lupfer, a professor of Psychology from the University of Alaska Anchorage stated that their results were fairly consistent with other species of hamsters but were still surprising.

Our hamsters ingested up to 7.5 g/kg and didn’t really show any signs of impairment. At 1 g/kg humans are too drunk to drive. But when given ethanol-injections, bypassing the digestive system, the hamsters lost their tolerance, suggesting their alcohol-abilities likely rely on an advanced metabolism.

Gwen Lupfer, Profess of Psychology, University of Alaska Anchorage

In general, lab rats and other animals used for experimentation hate the taste of bitter alcohol. They would need to be bred or trained to consume it. Just like how humans dislike the taste of alcohol when they first try it out. The researchers did not expect hamsters to willingly drink the alcohol.

One hamster subject in particular, named Bacardi by Radcliffe, was so eager to push the lever and receive his dues, he’d even do work for the chance. Though in this context there aren’t any advantages to drinking, Lupfer says the hamster’s behaviour is a bit like how us humans crave salt and fat long after our nutritional demands have been met, tapping into our ancestor’s urges.

Gwen Lupfer, Profess of Psychology, University of Alaska Anchorage

Hamsters are known to hoard seeds, fruit, and other things during the warmer months. Saving them just in time for winter. At some point, the food they store will rot and ferment. They practically evolved to adapt to the food that is available.

Needing to indulge in alcohol, even just a little bit, has meant they need to be able to digest and metabolise the drug extremely quickly to neutralise the impairing effects, and boy do they ever. It’d be best to prove these conditions in the wild, and study the hamster’s metabolism much more closely. Knowing how the little critters pull of this stunt precisely could provide insight into human liver disorders, especially those associated with alcohol.

Gwen Lupfer, Profess of Psychology, University of Alaska Anchorage

(Source: Animal Logic)

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