Pink elephants don’t exist.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. A few albino elephants look pink. It’s not a great condition for an elephant to have, and they tend to suffer skin damage and blindness in the wild, but they are out there.
What don’t exist are the magical dancing pink elephants that you see when you’re drunk. Pop culture has lied to us on that one for almost a hundred years now; Jack London is generally accused of being the first to use the phrase:
…the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants.
- Jack London, John Barleycorn, 1913
(I like how this is a man “whom we all know.” Hard-drinking crowd, Mr. London’s.)
Pink elephants have been with us as a symbol of drunkenness since: in Dumbo when the titular elephant drinks champagne (although in his case I suppose that would be the equivalent of seeing pink people?), on the labels of Delirium Tremens beer, in the names of many pubs throughout the English-speaking world, and so on.
So let me take a moment to clarify the record, and in doing so to provide some very valuable advice for any young drinkers out there:
If the booze you are drinking makes you hallucinate, drink different booze.
Because despite strong pop-cultural programming to the contrary, the effects of alcohol consumption — no matter what the quantity — do not include hallucinations.
Seriously. It’s not a thing that happens to your brain. Either there’s something else in your booze or it’s interacting horribly with some other medication, if you’re actually seeing things that aren’t there.
The “pink elephants” (and other, less-pleasant hallucinations) that habitual alcoholics sometimes see are an effect of withdrawal after long-term dependency, and don’t start showing up until a good 12 hours after drinking stops at the very earliest. Depending on whether you’re having a mild bout of alcoholic hallucinosis or full-blown delirium tremens, you can expect the horrorshow to last anywhere from a momentary flicker to two or three days.
But again, that’s only for people deep into alcoholism. The rest of us may entertain unrealistic fantasies, imagining that we are stronger or faster or more likely to take that cute girl at the bar home than we actually are, but we should not be getting bogus audiovisual signals from our brain when we booze.
I put this on my blog only because of its long-running devotion to writing about alcoholism, and because an old Questionable Content comic reminded me:
In a way I’m kind of sad. The QC drunken hallucinations always look like pretty fun guys to hang with. But seriously, if your booze is making you see things that aren’t there, switch drinks. And possibly bars, friends, and neighborhoods.