Does alcohol improve your ability to play darts?

For years now, pints and darts have gone together like hops and barley.

Rarely will you watch a tournament on TV which doesn’t show spectators throwing steins with gay abandon, and professional darts players were once famous for drinking on the job.

Today, darts is a sober pursuit, but is it possible that imbibing can improve your performance?

Some scientific studies have given weight to the idea that alcohol can improve our ability to perform tasks, according to Prof Robert Adron Harris, from the University of Texas. Speaking to the BBC, he said that drinking can “reduce anxiety and nervousness so if you’re impaired by nervousness it can improve performance.”

One study published of more than 6,000 British civil servants found that people who consume alcohol in moderation had significantly greater cognitive functioning than teetotallers.

The report, which was published in 1967 and became known as the Whitehall Study, found that people who consume up to 30 drinks per week had improved verbal reasoning, arithmetic and short-term memory compared to those who didn’t drink at all.

In lowering our inhibitions, drinking boosts our self-confidence and reduces social anxiety, both of which are key components when attempting to play pub games.

This study found support, to some extent, in an examination of language skills published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, where students learning Dutch at the University of Maastricht were asked to practice their oral skills after consuming the equivalent of a pint of 5% beer.

The researchers found that those who had consumed alcohol not only spoke better than their sober peers, but also demonstrated better pronunciation, thanks to their lowered inhibitions and increased confidence.

In the past, darts players were famous for drinking to steady their aim. Andy Fordham, 2004 BDO Champion, would drink a hip-flask of brandy and at least 24 bottles of Pilsner before starting a game.

But ultimately, drinking led to The Viking’s downfall. After collapsing on stage in 2007, he now only drinks non-alcoholic beer.

While it is tempting to believe that being emboldened by booze equated to improved cognitive function, the Whitehall Study’s findings were debunked by a revision earlier last year. In 2017, scientists from University College London (UCL) found that, while low alcohol consumption has previously been linked to preventing mental decline, “alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with adverse brain outcomes.”

However, other studies may explain why alcohol is thought of as a useful tool for darts players.

In 2002, research from the Boston University School of Medicine showed that by drinking alcohol regularly and in moderate amounts, middle-aged adults may improve their quality of life.

The study of 5,000 Canadians aged 50 claimed that those who drink in moderation – no more than 14 drinks a week and no more than three a day for women and four a day for men — had better dexterity, emotional intelligence, cognition and mobility than those who abstain altogether.

At the beginning of the 2017 PDC world darts championships the top 8 seeded players had an average age of 40, according to New Zealand-based NZ Darts Player. Darts players are typically older than the average athlete, and could therefore benefit from light drinking throughout the week.

Another reason why darts players are able to perform despite consuming large amounts of alcohol could be that they were simply already used to drinking in those quantities.

Speaking after his 2004 victory, Fordham said that he “felt like I had to drink a shedload” in order to play at his best, and as someone who was rarely seen sober, he may have been right.

“Drinking more, more regularly means your alcohol tolerance grows,” according to Drinkaware. Considering the damaging affects of alcohol withdrawal on our concentration and keeping a steady hand, perhaps it’s no wonder that the sport’s top athletes were able to excel while drinking heavily.

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