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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
How Are Rooms Cleaned at an Ice Hotel?

Cleaning rooms at Sweden’s famous ICEHOTEL is arguably less involved than your typical hotel. The bed, for example, does not have traditional sheets. Instead, it’s essentially an air mattress topped with reindeer fur, which sits on top of a custom-made wooden palette that has a minimum of 60 centimeters of airspace below. On top of those reindeer hides is a sleeping bag, and inside that sleeping bag is a sleep sack. And while it’s always 20ºF inside the room, once guests wrap themselves up for the night, it can get cozy.

And, if they’re wearing too many layers, it can get quite sweaty, too.

“The sleep sack gets washed every day, I promise you that. I know it for a fact because I love to walk behind the laundry, because it’s so warm back there," James McClean, one of the few Americans—if not the only—who have worked at Sweden's ICEHOTEL, tells Mental Floss. (He worked on the construction and maintenance crew for several years.)

There isn’t much else to clean in most guest rooms. The bathrooms and showers are elsewhere in the hotel, and most guests only spend their sleeping hours in the space. But there is the occasional accident—like other hotels, some bodily fluids end up where they shouldn’t be. People puke or get too lazy to walk to the communal restrooms. Unlike other hotels, these bodily fluids, well, they freeze.

“You can only imagine the types of bodily fluids that get, I guess, excreted … or expelled … or purged onto the walls,” McClean says. “At least once a week there’s a yellow stain or a spilled glass of wine or cranberry juice … and it’s not what you want to see splattered everywhere.” Housekeeping fixes these unsightly splotches with an ice pick and shovel, re-patching it with fresh snow from outside.

Every room has a 4-inch vent drilled into the icy wall, which helps prevent CO2 from escalating to harmful levels. Maintenance checks the holes daily to ensure these vents are not plugged with snow. Their tool of choice for clearing the pathway is, according to McClean, “basically a toilet brush on a stick.”

When maintenance isn’t busy unstuffing snow from that vent hole, they’re busy piping snow through it. Every couple days, the floor of each room receives a new coat of fluffy snow, which is piped through the vent and leveled with a garden rake.

“It’s the equivalent of vacuuming the carpet,” McClean says.

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 Did We Start Wearing Pants?
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It’s a question that has plagued Donald Duck for decades: Who decided pants were necessary? Did the motivation stem purely from modesty, or was there another reason we started climbing into trousers?

Over at Discover, author Sarah Scoles has offered a plausible explanation by describing a 2014 archaeological find in China’s Tarim Basin. Researchers with the German Archaeological Institute excavated what is believed to be the oldest example of pants ever unearthed, made from wool and dating back 3000 years.

The pants themselves held no clue as to why they were made, but their location did. The research team found them buried at the Yanghai cemetery along with a number of other artifacts, including horse-riding gear that was in the same grave: a wooden bit, a bow, and an axe. The pants-wearer was surely someone tasked with galloping around and slaying animals for food—likely necessitating apparel that would allow him to mount a horse without being encumbered by clothing.

A screen shot of Donald Duck near a door
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That idea eventually bled into Greek and Roman culture, where those on horseback sought out a comfortable and practical way of avoiding chafing. (The grave’s proto-pants also appeared to be an early example of being fashion-conscious. While mostly practical, each leg had cross-stitching that appeared to be purely decorative.)

Whether the Yanghai discovery is considered the earliest example of pants depends on how one defines pants. Ötzi, the European iceman first discovered in 1991, lived roughly 5300 years ago and died wearing goatskin leggings. We know a cartoon duck who has a lot of catching up to do.

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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