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Then why do they call it 'happy' hour?

Different types of alcohol don't produce certain emotions or behavior, experts say.

Published January 7, 2007


"Tequila makes me crazy."

"I'm an angry drunk after a few beers."

"Red wine makes me feel sexy."

You've probably heard it - or said it yourself - before. Attributing unique attitudes to different wines, cocktails, brews or liquors could become innocent partytime chatter or a serious excuse for alcohol-fueled conduct.

No matter how much of a heavyweight you think you might be, alcohol does affect your brain. But do different types of booze give drinkers different types of personalities?

"There's no pharmacological reason why it would," says Peter Kalivas, chair of the neuroscience department at the Medical University of South Carolina. "The difference most likely lies in the context of which people drink. Different contexts bring out different emotional responses."

That means if you usually toast with friends on Fridays after work, you're more likely to be a happy drunk vs. someone who consumes alcohol in stressful situations. Of course, this depends on your mood before you take a swig, too.

In general, alcohol alters neural transmissions so thought processing becomes less controlled, according to Kalivas. As alcohol disinhibits cortical activity, the emotional centers of the brain take greater influence over behavior. Then it becomes much easier to dance on the bar or tell that guy what you really think of him.

"Most people say hard liquor produces the strongest emotions," Kalivas says. "That's because it has the quickest onset. So the transition from your normal consciousness to one under the influence of alcohol is more rapid. You're less able to control your emotions than if you gradually move under the influence."

But wine is made from grapes. Margaritas are packed with lime juice. Some vodkas are crafted from potatoes. Beyond the alcohol alone, could other ingredients in alcoholic beverages be responsible for booze-soaked behavior?

Sorry, Sybil. Not really.

"If you only have, say, red wine in a certain setting, just the smell of red wine or the taste of it, separate from the alcohol, could invoke conditioned responses, which may be emotions," explains Kalivas. "But that's secondary. That's a learned association with the alcohol and the type of alcohol. It's not the real pharmacology of the drug itself."

Next time happy hour turns cranky, you'll have to point the finger at something other than the booze.

[Last modified January 6, 2007, 12:17:29]

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