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What Does Alcohol Do To Your Brain Long Term

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Thursday 20 April 2017

How Bad Is Heavy Drinking on the Brain?

You probably know that drinking alcohol can make you feel dizzy, uninhibited or hungover, but did you know that drinking while youre a teenager might also impact your health for years to come?

While its easy to see your body growing during adolescence, its not as obvious that your brain is going through a significant period of growth, too. Throughout your teens and into your twenties, your brain continues to grow and change as the synapses that connect all the different neurons become more complex and efficient.

Research shows that drinking alcohol while your brain is developing might stall or alter this process. This could leave you with potential brain damage that youll carry with you throughout the rest of your life.

Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells

A common expression to warn people to cut back on harmful behaviors is that they will kill their brain cells. As weve seen earlier, alcohol can fundamentally reshape and rewire the brain, but does it actually kill brain cells themselves?

Research from Harvard Medical School found that drinking damages the brains white matter, or tissue deep inside the brain that helps us process thoughts and governs movement, as well as transmits messages between the nervous system and other regions of the brain.

While Parkinsons Disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure can also damage white matter, alcohol can speed up this cumulative damage. Researchers found that alcohol particularly damaged white matter in parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling impulses, making it less likely that individuals will be able to cut back or quit drinking.

Luckily, researchers did see one glimmer of hope, as it appeared that this damaged white matter could potentially heal if drinkers quit drinking before they reached the age of 50.

While individuals who have consumed alcohol on a chronic basis for many years are at high risk of this type of damage, the risk is not limited to long-term drinkers.

An additional study found that damage to the brains white matter resulted in slower, less efficient thinking which can impact individuals for long periods of time, especially if they sustained alcohol-related damage to their brains at a younger age.

Long Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain

Many long-term effects of alcohol use can cause permanent damage to the brain, as well as to various organs. With intervention, brain damage may be reversible. Alcohols long-term brain impacts include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and can damage brain cells. Some of the most dangerous symptoms may include hallucinations and seizures. About 5 percent of those going through withdrawal will experience delirium tremens , the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal.
  • Damage to neurotransmitters slows communication between different areas of the brain and reduces energy levels.
  • Brain shrinkage is caused by a loss of gray matter, which contains cell bodies, and white matter, which controls cell pathways. A 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal is one of many that has identified a correlation between high alcohol consumption and brain shrinkage.
  • Cognitive impairment may affect verbalization, mental processing, memory, learning, concentration, and impulse control. Studies find areas of the brain related to problem solving and impulse control have the highest risk for damage from alcohol. Impairment in this area of the brain may result in alcohol-related dementia.

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What Part Of The Brain Does Alcohol Affect

Alcohol interacts with three powerful neurotransmitterschemical messengers that are responsible for communication.

  • The Nucleus accumbens: the nucleus accumbens is an important structure in the middle of the brain that is part of the reward pathway. The nucleus accumbens maintains motivation, pleasure, satiety, and memories. Alcohol enhances the release of dopamine, which then produces feelings of euphoria and well-being. This is also why alcohol can be so addicting.
  • Glutamate receptors: Glutamate is a chemical that excites neurons. Alcohol binds to glutamate receptors and blocks them, or keeps them from being activated.
  • GABA receptors: GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is the chemical that slows the brain down. Alcohol also binds to GABA receptors and activates these receptors.

Between alcohols interaction with GABA and Glutamate, the net effect is a depression of brain activity and all the nerves in your spinal cord . This effect doesnt just result in general drowsiness, but it also slows your breathing, thinking, and even suppresses the gag reflex.

Other brain structures affected by alcohol include:

Getting Treatment For Alcohol Use And Addiction

How the Weekend can Effect your Brain

Alcohol use disorder is the most common substance use disorder worldwide and affects thousands of American families.If you or someone you love is battling alcohol use and addiction, effective treatment is available. Rehab centers like Vertava Health Massachusetts provide comprehensive care to individuals and families who are suffering from the effects of alcohol use.

The first step in alcohol addiction treatment is medical detoxification. Alcohol withdrawal can have life-threatening symptoms, and should always take place under medical supervision. Once a person has successfully detoxed from alcohol, they can begin formal addiction treatment.

At Vertava Health Massachusetts, we offer on-site medical detox as well as a blend of traditional and alternative therapies. Patients engage in customized treatment tracks that may include family counseling and medication-assisted treatment .

Instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment, Vertava Health Massachusetts is committed to offering personalized treatment plans for every patient.

Many of the long-term effects of alcohol use can be reversed with proper treatment. To learn more about the effects of alcohol use, or for more information about Vertava Health Massachusetts, reach out to a treatment specialist today.

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What Is Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a dangerous practice that can cause physical harm. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism classifies binge drinking as a drinking pattern that leads to a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08 g/dL and above.6 For adult women, thats typically around 4 drinks within a couple of hours of each other.6

Brain Chemistry And Binge Drinking

A look at brain chemistry and structure offers a deeper understanding of binge drinking.

My staff and I have investigated the impact of binge alcohol consumption on frontal lobe neurochemistry and cognition during emerging adulthood and found significantly lower levels of frontal lobe GABA in binge drinkers relative to light drinkers. GABA levels were even lower in those who had experienced an alcohol-induced blackout.

In addition, verbal learning was uniquely impacted by binge drinking between bouts of intoxication.

Investigations conducted using animal models have revealed that adolescents are less sensitive to some of the impairing effects of alcohol, like sleepiness and loss of motor control, than adults.

In adult humans, these impairing effects of alcohol serve as internal cues that tell them they have had enough to drink. Teens, however, are significantly less affected by sleepiness and loss of motor control, and so they end up binge drinking and achieving higher blood alcohol levels.

It can be hard to determine whether a young person, compared to an adult, has been drinking. In general, adults more quickly experience impaired motor skills, but not always problems with memory, when they have been drinking.

Taken togetherand given a lack of sensitivity to the outward signs of intoxication in teensit can be difficult, not only for an adult to know if their teen has been drinking but also for teens to have insight as to their own impairment.

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What The Study Said

A team of researchers from University of Oxford looked at data from 424 men and 103 women who are participating in the 10,000-person Whitehall Study, an ongoing investigation of the relationship of lifestyle and health among British civil servants. At the beginning of the study in 1985, all of the participants were healthy and none were dependent on alcohol. Over the next 30 years, the participants answered detailed questions about their alcohol intake and took tests to measure memory, reasoning, and verbal skills. They underwent brain imaging with MRI at the end of the study.

When the team analyzed the questionnaires, the cognitive test scores, and the MRI scans, they found that the amount of shrinkage in the hippocampus the brain area associated with memory and reasoning was related to the amount people drank. Those who had the equivalent of four or more drinks a day had almost six times the risk of hippocampal shrinkage as did nondrinkers, while moderate drinkers had three times the risk. However, the only link between drinking and cognitive performance was that heavy drinkers had a more rapid decline in the ability to name as many words beginning with a specific letter as possible within a minute.

Whats Happening When You Drink Alcohol

How Alcohol Affects Your Developing Brain (Part 1)

When you consume alcohol, your body begins absorbing and transportingit throughout your bloodstream, which sets off a variety of other changes:

  • The flow of gastric acid in your stomachincreases, which makes you feel hungry.
  • Your blood vessels expand, which lowers yourblood pressure, creates a feeling of warmth, and causes your skin to flush.
  • Areas of the brain that control coordination,memory, speech, and more become dulled.
  • Urine production is increased, causing you tourinate more frequently.
  • Your liver begins to oxidize the alcohol so itcan be removed from the body. Also, every time you drink, it causes cells fromyour liver to die.
  • Dopamine and serotonin are released in the brain

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Using Hightech Tools To Assess Alcoholic Brain Damage

Researchers studying the effects of alcohol use on the brain are aided by advanced technology such as magnetic resonance imaging , diffusion tensor imaging , positron emission tomography , and electrophysiological brain mapping. These tools are providing valuable insight into how alcohol affects the brains structure and function.

Longterm heavy drinking may lead to shrinking of the brain and deficiencies in the fibers that carry information between brain cells . MRI and DTI are being used together to assess the brains of patients when they first stop chronic heavy drinking and again after long periods of sobriety, to monitor for possible relapse to drinking .

Memory formation and retrieval are highly influenced by factors such as attention and motivation . Studies using MRI are helping scientists to determine how memory and attention improve with long-time abstinence from alcohol, as well as what changes take place when a patient begins drinking again. The goal of these studies is to determine which alcoholinduced effects on the brain are permanent and which ones can be reversed with abstinence.

Another hightech tool, electroencephalography , records the brains electrical signals . Small electrodes are placed on the scalp to detect this electrical activity, which then is magnified and graphed as brain waves . These brain waves show realtime activity as it happens in the brain.

The P3 component is reduced in alcoholics compared with control subjects.

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Alcohol And The Teenage Brain

From the age of 12 your brain starts to undergo some radical changes. These continue until you are in your mid 20s.

During this time, the brain is developing more sophisticated abilities and skills.

These changes allow you to act in a more sophisticated way.

They give you the ability to:

  • problem solve
  • make sense of complex information
  • make plans for your future

Teenagers should not drink alcohol during this time. This is because the brain is under construction and being re-coded. Drinking can disrupt this process.

Alcohol use affects many parts of the brain, including:

  • learning
  • remembering
  • problem-solving

The teenage brain is also more likely to become addicted to alcohol than the adult brain. Teenagers who drink before the age of 15 are more likely to misuse alcohol in later life.

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Can Brain Damage Be Reversed

Contrary to the common message you may have heard, alcohol does not kill brain cells. However, it damages the neurons dendrites, making it difficult for them to send messages to one another. Unlike the cells in various other parts of your body, neurons do not divide or renew themselves, with only a few exceptions.7

However, the central nervous system has a strategy for repairing itself that is completely different from other organs in the body. Though damaged neurons cannot repair and rebuild themselves the way the skin can, they make new connections to compensate for the losses due to the damages.7

Some people with a severe alcohol use disorder can improve their cognitive functioning if they abstain from alcohol for about 1 year.8 The brain appears to reorganize to compensate for the behavioral problems.9

In most severe AUD cases, however, limited recovery is possible. In about 20% of those with a severe AUD, virtually no improvement in cognitive functioning is made even after abstaining from alcohol for a long time.

It is important to note that alcohols impact on your brain, specifically, depends on individual factors such as your family health history and history of substance use, your age, sex, and mental and physical health.9

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What Is A Hangover

Alcohol

A hangover occurs during and after the overconsumption of alcohol.

Dr. Krel notes, The actual mechanism of what happens during a hangover is still not clear but is thought to be a result of the toxicity of acetaldehyde on the body, changes in electrolytes, dehydration, and low blood sugar. The most common symptoms during a hangover include headache, nausea, dizziness, feeling sleepy or sluggish.

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How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain

When it comes to our brain, even when we drink a moderate amount of alcohol, nearly every part of our brain matter is negatively affected, resulting in both short- and long-term implications.

Any information mentioned is accurate at the time this article was originally published .

In Australia, it is recommended that adults consume no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks per day to reduce the health risks from alcohol. With this is mind, its important to understand how exactly alcohol affects our brain and what implications this may have on our overall health.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • Short and long-term effects of alcohol products
  • Alcohol and brain damage
  • Tips on cutting back on alcohol consumption

Be Healthy was created by VicHealth to provide helpful tips and advice on how you and your family can stay healthy. You can read more Be Healthy articles here.

What Every Parent Should Know About Adolescents And Alcohol

Studies at McLean Hospital and elsewhere have shown that alcohol affects the brains of adolescents in profound and dangerous ways. During the teenage and early adult years, the brain is still developing, making it more vulnerable to alcohol than the adult brain.

Moreover, research indicates that the earlier a person starts drinking, the more likely that person will develop serious problems with alcohol or drug addiction later in life.

Because of the serious short- and long-term effects of alcohol use and misuse, it is essential that teens, parents, teachers, and health professionals gain a deeper understanding of teenage drinking and brain development, and we must all work together to dispel common misconceptions about teens and alcohol.

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How Does Alcoholism Affect The Brain

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health on the effects of alcoholism, approximately 52.2% of Americans 12 years and above were categorized as current alcohol users. 6.3% of them were heavy alcohol users.

It is not a surprise then that most of the alcohol-related effects including brain damage are rampant in the United States. The mental health field has brought it out clearly that consumption of alcohol potentially exacerbates underlying mental health disorders. This is the first pathway that sheds light on how alcohol affects the brain.

The brain is one of the most delicate organs of the body and needless to say the most vulnerable to injury. The brain damage from alcohol consumption involves a multiplicity of factors that vary from one person to another.

Close to half of the approximately 20 million alcoholics in the United States suffer from neuropsychological difficulties arising from the effects of the interaction between alcoholism and the brain. This ranges from mild to severe. Close to 2 million alcoholics among them drinking underage cases have permanent and debilitating conditions requiring lifetime custodial care.

The explanation of the effect of alcohol on the brain can best be summarized using models developed in the health field.

How Much Is Too Much

What does alcohol abuse do to a teenager’s brain?

Your body’s response to alcohol depends on many factors. These include your age, gender, overall health, how much you drink, how long you have been drinking and how often you normally drink.

  • Those who drink occasionally tend to recover once they are sober. However, while their judgment is impaired, they may make poor decisions with lasting effects, such as driving under the influence.
  • Those who drink moderately, one or two drinks per day, can have a higher risk for breast cancer. They may also be prone to increased violence or accidents.
  • Heavy or chronic drinking occurs over an extended period of time. For women, this is more than three drinks per day or seven drinks per week. For men, it is more than four drinks per day or 14 drinks per week. For perspective, there are five drinks in a bottle of wine. Heavy or chronic drinking can cause lasting damage.

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How Alcohol Affects Your Brain

As anyone who has ever had an alcoholic drink will know, alcohol can make you more chatty, more confident, and less coherent. It slows your mental and physical reactions and reduces your ability to think, reason and remember. Thats why its never a good idea to have alcohol before undertaking any potentially dangerous task including driving, of course.

These short-term symptoms generally pass once we sober up again, but long-term heavy drinking can bring about more serious changes in our brains.

Alcohol and dementia

There is clear evidence that regular excessive drinking can increase your risk of developing the most common forms of dementia, such as Alzheimers Disease and vascular dementia. Frequent drinking in early adulthood may also increase your risk of developing early-onset dementia .

Long-term heavy drinking can bring about serious changes in our brains.

Alcohol-related brain damage

Alcohol-related brain damage , or alcohol-related brain injury , is an umbrella term for the damage that can happen to the brain as a result of long-term heavy drinking. ARBD is sometimes referred to as wet brain or by the name of one of the most well-known forms of the condition, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

The symptoms of ARBD may include:

The advice for anyone looking to avoid brain damage and keep risk of dementia low is to stick to the low-risk drinking guidelines.

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