How Alcohol Affects The Brain
Alcohol is associated with more than 200 illnesses, injuries, and conditions. Even though it may take years of heavy drinking to get alcohol-related diseases such as brain damage, the negative impacts of alcohol on the brain can present themselves after just a few drinks. Even though indulging in a drink once in a while may not cause health issues, moderate to heavy drinking can affect your brain. Abusing alcohol can also lead to deterioration over time.
Most people suffering from alcohol dependence have had a delay in thinking and memory problems, all associated with alcohol use. When someone drinks, they may find it hard to remember new information like names or even memories. They might experience a blackout afterward whereby they cannot remember whole events or conversations that happened when they were drinking. Heavy alcohol use can harm the general physiological health of your brain and your mental and physical well-being. Long-term use can also lead to memory and learning problems and cause any existing mental health conditions to develop or worsen.
The brain is one of the most complex and fragile organs in the body. It has to maintain an accurate balance of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals required to function correctly. When you are drunk on alcohol, it can upset this delicate equilibrium and disrupt the natural balance. Chronic, long-term alcohol use makes the brain conform to make up for the impact of the alcohol.
One of the most disturbing long-term impacts of alcohol on the brain is possible physiological dependence. Dependence is when someone experiences psychological and physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms if they reduce or cease their alcohol consumption. Someone with an alcohol dependency can also develop AUD or an Alcohol Use Disorder, a brain disease. AUD makes individuals struggle to reduce their drinking even if it harms their general social functioning, relationships, and health. Even though some of the mental and physical effects caused by alcohol use will diminish when the individual stops drinking, some of the effects may last longer and leave long-term consequences for their health.
Parts of The Brain Affected By Alcohol
Alcohol disturbs the neurotransmission process in the brain, which is how the nerves communicate with each other. Alcohol does this by interacting with the chemical messengers in the brain responsible for communication, also known as neurotransmitters. The three primary neurotransmitters alcohol effects include:
- The GABA receptors: Gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA is the chemical responsible for slowing down the brain. Alcohol binds to these receptors and activates them.
- The Glutamate receptors: Glutamate excites the neurons. Alcohol binds to these receptors and blocks them, preventing them from activation.
- The Nucleus accumbens: This is an essential structure in the center of the brain. It is a component of the reward pathway. This structure manages memories, gratification, pleasure, and motivation. Alcohol boosts dopamine release, which generates euphoric feelings. It is why alcohol has such addictive properties.
Both glutamate and GABA’s interaction with alcohol produces an overall depression of the nerves in the central nervous system and brain activity. This suppresses your gag reflex, slows down thinking and breathing, and causes general drowsiness. A diminished gag reflex affects one’s ability to swallow, increasing the likelihood of aspiration, airway obstruction, choking, and other respiratory complications.
Short Term Effects on The Brain
Drunkenness is caused by the short-term effects of alcohol on your central nervous system, but the symptoms often differ based on the following factors:
- The individual’s weight
- Unique body makeup
- The quantity of alcohol consumed
- How frequently the individual takes alcohol
Symptoms of intoxication from alcohol, such as moderate physical and cognitive impairment, might present after just a couple of drinks. However, excessive alcohol use can cause an alcohol overdose if one takes too much alcohol at a go.
Alcohol’s immediate effects on the brain are caused by its impact on the organ’s information-processing pathways and communication. Drinking too much too fast can cause some adverse mental effects, including reduced decision-making capacity, impaired motor coordination, and confusion. When one keeps drinking regardless of identifying these signs, it can result in an alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning, which is dangerous and a possibly lethal repercussion of taking a lot of alcohol within a short duration.
Long-Term Effects On The Brain
People who drink more have a higher risk of developing detrimental alcohol-related complications, specifically if they drink a lot over a long time. Some of the long-term health complications associated with chronic alcohol use include:
- The development of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression
- Sleep and mood disturbances
- A weakened immune system
- Digestion, liver, and heart problems
Heavy and chronic alcohol users also risk developing a thiamine deficiency due to inadequate nutrition leading to a condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) a.k.a “wet brain.” This disease can result in memory and learning problems, coordination, eye movement disruption, and recurring mental confusion.
Long-term abuse of alcohol can also lead to alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), as earlier mentioned. This is a problematic and uncontrollable pattern of drinking that continues despite its adverse repercussions on the person’s relationships, work, and health.
Effects On Mental Health
Alcohol use can also affect one’s daily cognitive functioning, overall mood, and mental health due to its effects on the brain’s chemicals. Excessive alcohol use can also induce or worsen pre-existing psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression.
The negative cognitive impacts of alcohol use can include a severe hindrance of mental functioning, dementia, learning problems, and memory loss.
Brain damage resulting from alcohol use represents a progressive decline in brain health and function. Anyone with an alcohol dependency has time to get help and start the rehabilitation process. Treatment for any alcohol-related diseases or AUDs usually includes detox, abstinence from alcohol, and a healthy diet, which has been proven to undo some of the effects of heavy drinking on the brain and the body. The first step to reduce or prevent the negative influence of alcohol on one’s brain is to seek alcohol addiction treatment if you notice any alarming signs and symptoms.