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Why Do People Get Emotional When They Drink?

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Drinking influences our personalities in a variety of ways. Some people get happy. Others turn combative or impulsive. At one time or another, though, we’ve all been the emotional drunk, a condition typically marked by ill-timed espousals of affection (or reprisal), acute introspection, and an uncontrollable urge to cry in the middle of a crowded bar. Alcohol impacts every organ system in the body, but its effect on the brain is what determines our behavior while under its sway. And our emotions, the crux of what makes us human, rarely escape unscathed. 

Once that shot of Maker’s reaches your stomach, a small portion of the alcohol is absorbed into the blood through the stomach lining, while the majority passes to the small intestine where it’s absorbed. Alcohol dissolves into the blood’s water, is carried through the bloodstream, and is processed by the liver before being excreted. Before that happens, though, it’s able to cross the blood-brain barrier, which means it can directly enter the brain through circulation. At this point, you’ll notice changes in behavior and thought processes. 

Alcohol is a depressant, but not in the way that an occasional drink will make us psychologically “depressed” (although research supports a correlation between heavy drinking and depression). Rather, a depressant incites a chemical reaction that slows down activity in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) responsible for interpreting sensory cues, controlling motor function, thinking and reasoning, and regulating emotion.

Once the barrier is breached, alcohol settles into the outermost layer of our brain, the cerebral cortex. This thin layer of cells (also known as grey matter) covers the cerebrum and cerebellum and is responsible for processing sensory information and thoughts, and for initiating the majority of our voluntary muscle movements. Alcohol disrupts the normal flow of neurotransmitters across the cortex’s synaptic connections, and we enter an altered state. The first thing to go is our inhibitions, which the booze-free cortex would typically keep in check. We become more talkative and assured, and our better judgment begins to slip away.

As more drinks are consumed, these effects become increasingly pronounced and more of the brain is pulled into the mix. The limbic system, a set of six inner structures tucked under the cerebrum, is believed to be the emotional center of the brain and is tasked with controlling our emotions and behavior, and forming long-term memories. Once alcohol begins affecting the limbic system, you’re most likely drunk.

As in the cortex, booze interrupts the electrical signals between synapses, we’re unable to interpret information properly, and processes are thrown into flux. The limbic system, which would typically keep our emotions in check, now subjects us to mood swings and exaggerated states. This can manifest itself as misunderstanding somebody’s intentions (the cause of most bar fights), misunderstanding or amplifying your own feelings (the cause of most bar breakups), or simply saying something embarrassing or regrettable (the cause of most Sunday morning facepalms). Because the limbic system is also responsible for helping form memories, there’s the added chance that, if you go entirely off the deep end, you may not be able to remember what you said or did the next day. Our drunken emotions more often than not tend to be exaggerated versions of our sober personality (i.e., if you’re generally happy, drinking will likely just make you silly), so if you’re drama-prone to begin with, best to just stick with water.  

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Big Questions
What Are Carbohydrates Used For In Our Bodies?
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What are the carbohydrates used for in our body?

Ray Schilling:

Carbs are varied. There are complex carbohydrates that are absorbed slowly and you hardly get an insulin reaction. On the other end of the spectrum there are refined carbs like sugar, which are rapidly absorbed in the gut and to which the body reacts swiftly with an insulin reaction to lower high blood sugars.

Generally speaking all carbs are broken down into glucose and absorbed in the gut. Glucose is the fuel that is metabolized inside the cells in the mitochondria to give us energy. This is particularly important in the brain, which lives solely by glucose as its energy supply, but our muscles, our heart, our liver, and kidneys are all very rich in mitochondria for the metabolism of glucose.

But there is a dark side to refined carbs that we need to know about: When all our glucose storage spaces in the liver and the muscles are full (glycogen is the storage form of glucose), then the liver starts processing glucose. With our sugar consumption having spiraled upwards in the last 183 years, this surplus sugar metabolism is causing more and more problems.

The liver produces triglycerides from the extra sugar and LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol. This causes hardening of the arteries and causes heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure.

We need to come to our senses and cut out processed foods (which have extra sugar in them), switch to a Mediterranean diet and only consume complex carbs, contained in legumes, vegetables, and fruit. It is also recommendable to cut out starchy foods with a glycemic index of higher than 55 in order to bring our liver metabolism back to normal (normal triglyceride and LDL cholesterol production). This will mean cutting out pasta, potatoes, rice, bread, and muffins.

If you're wondering what kind of recipes you could follow, I have included one week’s worth of meals in this book: A Survivor's Guide To Successful Aging: With recipes for 1 week provided by Christina Schilling.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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