Ask An Adult: Why Do I Cry When I'm Drunk?
The Debrief: You've had a bad day, you have three glasses of white wine at work drinks... and we all know what comes next
When looking at the recent pictures of Little Mix’s Jesy crying in a taxi after an alleged fight with her boyfriend Jake Roche, my first thought was I have so been there. Well, not exactly there. You’re more likely to find me crying sloppy drunk tears on the top deck of the No55 to Clapton Pond.
Most women can relate to Jesy’s plight (if not the purple lipstick). We’ve all been that girl. You’re feeling a little down but nail three large glasses of Zinfandel Blush at your work drinks and before you know it, you’re crying about Syria on the shoulder of that weird guy from IT you barely even know.
Luckily for us non-celebs, getting drunk and emotional is a private humiliation. Poor Jesy, on the other hand, woke up to cruel internet commenters laughing at her cry-face because apparently they’ve never made terrible life choices while under the influence of alcohol.
To find out why we tend to cry when drunk, The Debrief spoke to Dr Sally Adams, assistant professor in health psychology at the University of Bath, and Dr Sarah Jarvis of the charity Drinkaware.
Dr Adams explains how alcohol affects the brain. ‘We all know that alcohol impacts our moods in general. When we start drinking, the stimulant effect of alcohol causes positive feelings such as euphoria and a “buzz”. But when we drink more heavily, the depressive effects of alcohol kick in. This is why some people call alcohol a bi-phase drug, because you get the positive effects on the way up, and the depressive effects on the way down.’
OK, so this is where the science part gets heavy. ‘Unlike other drugs, alcohol affects all of the neurotransmitters in our brain – which makes it a really dirty drug actually. It washes over your whole brain.’
Here’s the timeline for your drunken Jesy tears. ‘So you start drinking early in the evening, and alcohol inhibits the pre-frontal part of our brain, which controls all our cognitive functions. Things like decision-making and planning.’
The technical term for this is disinhibiting – so this is the part of the night where you might think it’s a good idea to draw loads of cash out of a cashpoint and call your dealer, or get off with your best mate.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Then when we consume more alcohol over time, the part of the brain called the limbic system – specifically the amygdala – is affected. This is normally when things start going a bit wrong. ‘This is the part of the brain which is associated with emotion, and it recognises and connects emotional stimuli.’
In practice, Dr Adams explains, ‘When we drink too much, we aren’t able to regulate our responses to emotional situations.’
As this part of your brain shuts down, you misinterpret social and emotional cues. You might perceive someone is annoyed with you when they’re not, for example, which is a surefire way to get in a fight with your boyfriend and cry. Drunk men often misinterpret emotional cues from other people as aggression, which is why pissed-up guys always seem to end up head-butting each other for no reason in kebab shops after nights out.
If you’re reading this and thinking, Yeah, but what if you’ve had a shit day and really just want a drink, Dr Jarvis urges caution. ‘It’s a really, really, really bad idea to drink alcohol if you’re going through a difficult period in your life. It’s never a coping mechanism that works. People talk about it numbing the pain, but actually all you’re doing is making things worse.’
In fact, alcohol will literally make you more depressed. ‘Especially if you’re depressed to start with, alcohol will make things worse. The reason for this is because alcohol is a depressant and has an effect on the serotonin in your brain. When you consider that people with depression take SSRIs to increase the levels of serotonin in their brains, drinking alcohol is a bad idea because it will make you feel more depressed.’
And if you’re a woman and you’re feeling a bit down, getting pissed is a particularly stupid idea. ‘Women are more prone to depression then men anyway. You’re twice as likely to become depressed if you’re a woman than a man is over the course of their lifetime.’
While this makes for pretty bleak reading, there’s one bright spot on the horizon. Next time you get pissed and make a tit of yourself, don’t blame the booze – blame your amygdala.
If you’re reading this and you feel like you do have a problem with alcohol, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP, or Drinkaware has a good list of places that can provide support.
Picture: Jovana Rikalo
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