Friday, May 13, 2022

How Does Alcohol Work In The Brain

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How The Body Responds To Alcohol

How does alcohol make you drunk? – Judy Grisel

Alcohol acts primarily on the nerve cells within the brain. Alcohol interferes with communication between nerve cells and all other cells, suppressing the activities of excitatory nerve pathways and increasing the activities of inhibitory nerve pathways.

For example, University of Chicago Medical Center: Alcohol and Anesthetic Actions talks about the ability of alcohol to enhance the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Enhancing an inhibitor generally induces sluggishness, which matches the behavior you see in a drunk person. Alcohol not only enhances an inhibitor, it also weakens an excitatory neurotransmitter called glutamine. Dampening the effect of an excitatory neurotransmitter also produces sluggishness. Alcohol does this by interacting with the receptors on the receiving cells in these pathways.

Alcohol affects various centers in the brain, both higher and lower order. The centers are not equally affected by the same BAC the higher-order centers are more sensitive than the lower-order centers. As the BAC increases, more and more centers of the brain are affected.

The order in which alcohol affects the various brain centers is as follows:

  • Cerebral cortex
  • Medulla
  • A Complete Miracle: How Naltrexone Works On Your Brain

    Bruce HodgesJohn Mendelson, M.D. Evan O’Donnell

    A beloved actress and friend, Claudia Christian once felt utterly hopeless.

    For years, Christian had been battling a deadly addiction to alcohol, driven by genetics and a history of disordered drinking behaviors. And after seemingly-endless attempts to fix her drinking habitseach proving futile, one after the othershe felt as if she had hit rock bottom.

    I prayed until my knees were black and blue, and I still kept relapsing time and time again, said Christian in a Tedx Talk1 at the London Business School. Each relapse becameworse and worse.

    Relief finally greeted Christian when she discovered naltrexone, a drug designed to reduce cravings for alcohol. By following a medication plan known as the Sinclair Method, Christian cut down her drinking over the course of several months, describing her transformation as a complete miracle. So what is the Sinclair Method and the secret behind it?

    Any Amount Of Alcohol Consumption Harmful To The Brain Finds Study

    UK study of 25,000 people finds even moderate drinking is linked to lower grey matter density

    There is no safe amount of alcohol consumption for the brain, with even moderate drinking adversely affecting nearly every part of it, a study of more than 25,000 people in the UK has found.

    The study, which is still to be peer-reviewed, suggests that the more alcohol consumed, the lower the brain volume. In effect, the more you drink, the worse off your brain.

    Theres no threshold drinking for harm any alcohol is worse. Pretty much the whole brain seems to be affected not just specific areas, as previously thought, said the lead author, Anya Topiwala, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Oxford.

    Using the UK Biobank, a substantial database designed to help researchers decode the genetic and environmental factors that lead some people to develop diseases while others do not, researchers in this study analysed data from 25,378 participants such as age, sex, education, self-reported alcohol consumption, brain size and health from MRI scans, information about hospital and outpatient visits, and memory tests.

    Higher volume of alcohol consumption per week was associated with lower grey matter density the researchers found, with alcohol explaining up to a 0.8% change in grey matter volume, even after accounting for individual biological and behavioural characteristics.

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    The Science Behind The Effects Of Alcohol On The Adolescent Brain

    It is important to understand that adolescence is a notable age period, a time when an individual is growing and maturing at rapid and dramatic rates relative to other ages. In the first decade of life, many changes happen in the brains neural systems, areas that control vision, hearing, and motor functions.

    However, the last region of the brain to come online is the frontal lobe, which controls higher-order abilities, such as abstract thought, impulse control, and decision-making. This part of the brain undergoes a dramatic fine-tuning during adolescence. Because their minds and bodies are still developing, teens have different responses to the effects of alcohol than adults.

    A better understanding of the nature of these responses has been revealed through research at my laboratory at McLean Hospitalthe Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health .

    Through this work, which is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, we have come to believe that one of the keys to understanding the effects of alcohol on the teenage brain is -amino butyric acid or GABA. GABA is found throughout the brain, particularly in the frontal lobe, the late-maturing region of the brain responsible for planning, organization, short-term memory, cognitive control, and decision-making.

    The Behavioral Drive Behind Alcoholism

    Alcohol and Your Brain

    At the heart of almost all habits is a concept known as reinforcement, which can be either positive and negative.

    For most of us, positive reinforcement is common sense: after being rewarded once for doing something, a person may behave the same way again and again in order to elicit the same favorable response. Thus, the persons behavior is reinforced by the expectation of receiving a reward. Similarly, negative reinforcement means learning to behave a certain way to avoid a negative response

    As it turns out, addiction is guided by the same two behavioral forces. But unlike most habits, the incentive to keep drinking comes from inside, not out. Once someone downs that first, sweet bottle of booze, a sea of feel-good chemicals floods the nervous system and generates a calm, euphoric feelingone that makes it tough to resist another round.

    For someespecially those with genetic and psychological predispositionsthis sensation is potent enough to turn bi-weekly trips to the pub into nightly manhunts through the liquor aisle, paving the way for full-fledged addiction.

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    What Part Of The Brain Is Affected By Alcohol

    High blood alcohol content can affect the cerebral cortex, hypothalamus, pituitary gland and medulla. This is what results in the most common minor side effects, including slow reaction time, slurred speech and sluggish movements.

    When the medulla is affected, it can cause sleepiness, slow breathing and decrease body temperature . These effects can be fatal.


  • Can you die from alcohol-related brain damage?

    It is possible to die from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, or wet brain. However, wet brain is a disease that gets progressively worse over time. If a person does not receive adequate treatment for this disease, then it is possible to progress into a coma or death.

  • How does alcohol affect the brain of an adolescent?

    Alcohol can have a negative impact on the teen brains development, which can have lasting consequences when teens become adults. In teens, drinking is linked to:

  • Loss of grey matter
  • Less development of white matter
  • Abnormal brain activity during decision-making tasks and while trying to pay attention
  • Binge drinking is linked to noticeable problems with teen brain development as well, specifically:

    • Short-term and long-term memory problems
    • Reductions in visuospatial abilities

    Teen drinking is also linked to the development of alcoholism later in life, which may lead to further brain damage.

    What Are The Effects Of Consuming Alcohol

    Alcohol is a depressant to our bodies. Some of the visible symptoms you are used to seeing in someone whos drunk slurred speech, loss of coordination, falling, loss of inhibition, passing out all of these side effects are a result of our brain cells communicating at a slower rate, explains Dr. Krel.

    The initial euphoric effects of alcohol are a result of dopamine being released from the reward center in the brain. Dopamine is known as the feel good neurotransmitter and it is involved in feeling pleasure. Dopamine release is also thought to be one of the mechanisms that drive addiction. In addition to dopamine, drinking alcohol initially releases serotonin which is another neurotransmitter involved in feeling happy and calm.

    Alcohol also increases the effects of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. By increasing the effects of GABA, responses in the brain are decreased this slowed neurotransmission results in slurred speech, identifies Dr. Krel. Our limbic system is involved in emotional responses, which is also slowed by alcohol, resulting in the loss of inhibition experienced while getting drunk.

    Alcohol also blocks vasopressin, a hormone that prevents our kidneys from eliminating too much fluid. This can increase the need to urinate and precipitate dehydration. Dr. Krel also mentions, Contrary to popular belief, getting drunk reduces sexual responses.

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    So How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain

    Alcohol directly affects neurotransmitters, which control behavior and thought. It is both a depressant and a stimulant. Alcohol depresses your movements, speech, and thoughts. The effects are directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed. However, like many drugs, alcohol also stimulates the release of dopamine in your body, which tricks your body into feeling pleasure and can in turn make you associate drinking alcohol with feeling great. The tricky part here, is that the more you drink alcohol to get that feeling, the less dopamine your body releases. Over time, you end up being mentally hooked, forever in search of that pleasurable feeling you think that alcohol gives you. This is where addictions take hold.

    How Alcohol Works In Developing Alcoholism

    Part 3: How does alcohol affect the brain?

    Alcoholism develops as the brain adapts to the presence of alcohol over time. The more the brain is exposed to alcohol, the more tolerant it becomes of its effects. This means that an individual who continually exposes themselves to alcohol will need to drink more over time in order to become intoxicated.

    As the brains tolerance to alcohol increases a person becomes at risk of developing alcohol dependence and the various risks and harms associated with excessive drinking.

    In alcoholics, other changes in the brain occur as a result of the way alcohol works on the brain. Various areas of the brain that are essential to everyday function start to chemically change and adapt to alcohols exposure.

    These alcohol induced brain changes have a profound effect on a person, even when they are not drinking.

    The brain starts to reprioritise its needs and places alcohol above everything else. This results in the affected individual developing an overwhelming craving and compulsion to drink alcohol, even when it is to their detriment. This pathological craving for alcohol is heavily associated with alcohol addiction and dependence

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    What Happens To The Brain During Alcohol Withdrawal

    Home » Frequently Asked Questions » What Happens to the Brain During Alcohol Withdrawal?

    The brain does some interesting things during alcohol withdrawal. The brain compensates for the prolonged presence of alcohol by adjusting its internal chemistry to overcome alcohols depressant effects. When alcohol is removed from the system after it has become fine-tuned to function in its presence, the brain becomes overstimulated and must adjust back to its normal chemistry. This is what happens to the brain during alcohol withdrawal. This process takes time and produces the uncomfortable symptoms we associate with alcohol withdrawal.

    Growing New Brain Cells

    For decades scientists believed that the number of nerve cells in the adult brain was fixed early in life. If brain damage occurred, then, the best way to treat it was by strengthening the existing neurons, as new ones could not be added. In the 1960s, however, researchers found that new neurons are indeed generated in adulthooda process called neurogenesis . These new cells originate from stem cells, which are cells that can divide indefinitely, renew themselves, and give rise to a variety of cell types. The discovery of brain stem cells and adult neurogenesis provides a new way of approaching the problem of alcoholrelated changes in the brain and may lead to a clearer understanding of how best to treat and cure alcoholism .

    For example, studies with animals show that high doses of alcohol lead to a disruption in the growth of new brain cells scientists believe it may be this lack of new growth that results in the longterm deficits found in key areas of the brain . Understanding how alcohol interacts with brain stem cells and what happens to these cells in alcoholics is the first step in establishing whether the use of stem cell therapies is an option for treatment .

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    What Happens When You Get Drunk

    First off, alcohol is a depressant. Its a drug, and regardless of the fact that you see it advertised all around you on a constant basis, it is still a potentially dangerous substance.

    Of course, while alcohol or rather its active ingredient, ethanol is a depressant, it actually works in phases. In the first stage, you feel great. Thats because drinking releases dopamine to your brain. Dopamine is the reward substance in your brain that makes you feel good about what youre doing. This is a big part of the reason why alcohol and other drugs seem as pleasant as they do.

    While your brain is feeling a high off of your drinking, your stomach and liver are working overtime to process the alcohol and prevent it from getting into your bloodstream. In small quantities, your body can do that, which is why drinks with low alcohol content never get you drunk.

    The initial rush usually lasts about a half-hour, and is a big reason why people never stop at just one drink. if youre still drinking consistently, the depressive effects kick in. These effects are the ones that slow movement and reaction speed, and blocks the parts of your brain that work as behavioral inhibitors. This is why people are more prone to making decisions while drunk that they wouldnt have normally.

    In extreme cases, drunkenness may lead to a blackout and memory loss. But why is that, and how big of a problem is it?

    How Alcohol Works On The Body & How Alcohol Is Processed

    Alcohol Effects, Intoxication And Alcoholism

    Alcohol is not digested like other foods, rather it is absorbed into the bloodstream, broken down, processed then expelled

    Once alcohol is consumed, around 20 percent of it is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach lining. The other 80 percent is absorbed into the bloodstream via the small intestines. Once in the bloodstream, alcohol is then quickly diffused throughout the bodys tissues and organs.

    The bloodstream carries alcohol around the body and to the brain, with the active ingredient ethanol working on the brain within as little as a few minutes after consumption. This is when the effects of alcohol will start to be felt.

    After approximately 20 minutes, alcohol reaches the liver and begins to be processed. On average our liver can metabolize one unit of alcohol every hour. This time frame is subject to a number of variables, including the livers health and the amount of alcohol consumed in one episode

    Alcohol is finally expelled from the body in a number of ways, including sweat and breath, but the majority of alcohol consumed leaves the body through urine. Whilst alcohol is present in our system it has a toxic effect on every single organ it comes into contact with.

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    Dopamine As A Treatment Target For Alcoholism

    Researchers are also investigating whether drugs that normalize dopamine levels in the brain might be effective for reducing alcohol cravings and treating alcoholism.

    In clinical trials in Sweden, alcohol-dependent patients who received an experimental drug called OSU6162, which lowers dopamine levels in rats, experienced significantly reduced alcohol cravings.

    Pia Steensland, an associate professor at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet and co-author of the studies, said the patients who received the drug reported not enjoying the first zip of alcohol as much as patients who did not receive the drug.

    Interestingly, those with the poorest impulse control who would be considered most at risk of relapse after a period of sobriety responded best to the treatment.

    Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

    What Is Alcoholic Neuropathy

    Neuropathy is weakness, numbness and tingling in the nerves, typically affecting the nerves of the feet and hands. Alcoholic neuropathy describes nerve damage caused by alcohol use. Alcoholic neuropathy can exist all by itself or as a part of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. It can also lead to nerve pain and lasting discomfort.

    Symptoms and Causes of Alcoholic Neuropathy

    Alcohol can affect the way that vitamins are processed by the body and how they enter nerve cells. This impairs nerve cells and affects their ability to interact with the body. Alcohol also generates reactive molecules called free radicals that can cause damage to sensitive nerve cells. Nerve cells in the hands and feet are more likely to be affected by the damage caused by alcoholic neuropathy.

    Nerve cells influence the bodys ability to receive and send signals from the brain. Damage affecting signals to the brain can impair muscle movements, coordination, temperature sensation, pressure sensation, pain sensation and other sensory functions of the nerves. Impaired sensation can lead to an increased risk of injury, further damaging the nerves.

    Symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy can include:

    • Weakness
    • Nerve pain
    • Numbness

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    Alcohol Misuse And Its Lasting Effects

    Over time, excessive drinking can lead to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Alcohol abuse can increase your risk for some cancers as well as severe, and potentially permanent, brain damage. It can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome , which is marked by amnesia, extreme confusion and eyesight issues. WKS is a brain disorder caused by a thiamine deficiency, or lack of vitamin B-1. Taking certain vitamins and magnesium, along with not drinking alcohol, may improve your symptoms.

    Alcohol can harm your body in many ways. The good news is that within a year of stopping drinking, most cognitive damage can be reversed or improved.

    If you or someone you know needs help, please contact your physician or Alcoholics Anonymous.

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