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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 Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
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AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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