What Parts Of The Brain Does Alcohol Affect
The brain controls our thoughts, emotions, memory, motor functions, temperature, senses, organs, and autonomic activities like breathing. Alcohol can have an adverse health impact on all of these vital brain functions.
- The Cerebral Cortex is the thinking center of our consciousness. Its where we process incoming information and where we formulate judgments and decisions. Alcohol depresses this function, slowing the input of sensory information, clouding the thought process, and reducing inhibitions. Long-term use of alcohol can permanently damage the cerebral cortex.
- The Cerebellum is the center of movement, coordination, equilibrium, and balance. Alcohol impairs this brain region, affecting our balance, causing us to be unsteady, stagger, and possibly fall. It may also cause our hands to shake.
- The Hypothalamus and the Pituitary work together to link the nervous system to the endocrine system. This region of the brain both stimulates and inhibits key hormonal processes in order to maintain the bodys internal balance. Alcohol depresses and disrupts the balance of these systems, as well as impacting sexual desire and performance. Sexual desire may intensify, but the ability to perform may be impaired.
- The Hippocampus controls the memory. Alcohol affects this area, causing blackouts, memory loss, and impacting the ability to learn. Long-term use of alcohol can permanently affect the memory and can contribute to dementia.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain
How does alcohol affect the brain? The human brain is perhaps the most complex part of the body. Alcohol abuse can adversely affect its performance. While these effects arent usually seen after just one drink, binge drinking can have an immediate effect.
If youve seen someone drinking large amounts of alcohol, youve probably seen how it affects a person. Slurred speech, stumbling, and poor judgment are all signs of alcohol interfering with the brains processes. Below is an in-depth look at how alcohol affects different areas of your brain.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain In The Long Term
When alcohol is consumed regularly over time , it can take a toll on the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex and regions of the cerebellum. The prefrontal cortex is linked to executive functions like planning and decision-making, and the cerebellum is responsible for balance and motor function.
When these portions of the brain are affected, it can lead to problems with:
Even small amounts of alcohol can cause the entire brain to shrink if consumed habitually over an extended period of time. The reasons for this brain shrinkage are unclear, but because alcohol dehydrates tissues, constant dehydration may have negative effects on the brain.
Other studies indicate that smaller brains are also lighter in weight than those without an alcohol use disorder. The good news, however, is that some of the damage can be reversed when the drinking stops.
Excessive alcohol consumption is also linked to complex brain problems, such as:
- Dementia: Impaired cognitive ability that becomes worse over time
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome : Chronic memory disorder caused by vitamin B1 deficiency
- Alcoholic neuropathy: Damage to peripheral nerves, which is irreversible
- Alcoholic cerebellar degeneration: Deterioration of nerve cells in the cerebellum
- A progressive condition characterized by the corrosion of the corpus callosum, a nerve tract in the brain
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Brain damage or growth problems in a child incurred during a mothers pregnancy
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Brain Damage Due To Alcoholism
Therefore, chronic alcoholics can progress to the point that they no longer have the ability to walk a straight line even when “sober” or stand on one foot, especially in the dark or when their eyes are closed.
Additionally, long-time alcoholics can develop deficits in the executive functioning of their brains, meaning they can demonstrate problems in putting items in order, solving problems, multitasking, and problems with their working memory.
Neuroinflammation is also thought to be a key part of the brain changes that occur with alcohol use disorders. Research also suggests that nutritional deficiencies caused by alcohol use can also have an effect on the brain.
Scientific studies of the brain damage caused by alcoholism have consistently shown disproportionately greater deficits in executive and balance functions compared with other components of brain function.
Why You Have To Pee Again
Your brain gives off a hormone that keeps your kidneys from making too much urine. But when alcohol swings into action, it tells your brain to hold off. That means you have to go more often, which can leave you dehydrated. When you drink heavily for years, that extra workload and the toxic effects of alcohol can wear your kidneys down.
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Dopamine And The Brain
The brain contains neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that transmit signals between brain cells and send information throughout the body. Dopamine is one of those chemical messengers and is strongly impacted by the presence of alcohol. Centered in the motivation, pleasure, and reward center of the brain, dopamine levels influence our mood. Higher levels of dopamine make us feel happier, more motivated and raise our self-esteem. When dopamine levels are low, we may feel depressed and unmotivated.
Dopamine levels naturally increase when we experience something pleasurable, like eating something delicious, exercising, spending time with friends, or receiving positive feedback on a work or school project. Higher levels of dopamine make us feel happy and motivate us to re-experience what made us feel that way. Alcohol and other addictive substances trigger a much higher than normal increase in dopamine levels, causing an even more intense desire to repeat the behavior.
Studies have confirmed that even small amounts of alcohol cause an increase in dopamine levels. One such study, published in the journal Alcohol Health and Research World, states, This dopamine release may contribute to the rewarding effects of alcohol and may thereby play a role in promoting alcohol consumption.
S Of The Brain Alcohol Affects
What is the Frist Brain Function Affected by Alcohol?
The first area compromised is the Cerebral Cortex, which causes confusion and lowers inhibitions. For example, jokes start to seem funnier, and a user may be less afraid to talk to new people or do something else that is out of their comfort zone. Next, it hits the cerebellum, altering movement and balance. This is why people who are intoxicated may be more likely to fall or have slurred speech.
If the user continues to drink, the hypothalamus and amygdala become affected. This may make it harder to control emotions, and some people may even injure themselves and not realize it until the next day. At this point of consumption, the user can be described as someone who is acting on animal instincts, since all parts of the brain that regulate human reasoning have gone offline.
If a user continues to drink at this point, it may affect the brain stem, which induces sleep and can cause irregular breathing and even seizures. This is how even one binge event can lead to an untimely death. Fortunately, most stop drinking or pass out before this level of impairment.
Alcohol And The Brain
Most of us have witnessed the outward signs of heavy drinking: the stumbling walk, slurred words and memory lapses. People who have been drinking have trouble with their balance, judgment and coordination. They react slowly to stimuli, which is why drinking before driving is so dangerous. All of these physical signs occur because of the way alcohol affects the brain and central nervous system.
Alcohol affects brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit the signals throughout the body that control thought processes, behavior and emotion. Neurotransmitters are either excitatory, meaning that they stimulate brain electrical activity, or inhibitory, meaning that they decrease brain electrical activity. Alcohol increases the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. GABA causes the sluggish movements and slurred speech that often occur in alcoholics. At the same time, alcohol inhibits the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Suppressing this stimulant results in a similar type of physiological slowdown. In addition to increasing the GABA and decreasing the glutamate in the brain, alcohol increases the amount of the chemical dopamine in the brain’s reward center, which creates the feeling of pleasure that occurs when someone takes a drink.
Alcohol affects the different regions of the brain in different ways:
One drink is defined as:*
This Is Your Brain On Alcohol
- By Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women’s Health Watch
ARCHIVED CONTENT: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date each article was posted or last reviewed. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Its no secret that alcohol affects our brains, and most moderate drinkers like the way it makes them feel happier, less stressed, more sociable. Science has verified alcohols feel-good effect PET scans have shown that alcohol releases endorphins which bind to opiate receptors in the brain. Although excessive drinking is linked to an increased risk of dementia, decades of observational studies have indicated that moderate drinking defined as no more than one drink a day for women and two for men has few ill effects. However, a recent British study seems to have bad news for moderate drinkers, indicating that even moderate drinking is associated with shrinkage in areas of the brain involved in cognition and learning.
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What Alcohol Really Does To Your Brain
What happens once that vodka cranberry works its way through your bloodstream and hits the control center behind your eyes?
We hear many different things about how alcohol affects the brain and body, most notably that it is a depressant. That’s only part of the story. Alcohol is a depressant, but it’s also an indirect stimulant, and plays a few other roles that might surprise you.
Alcohol directly affects brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters — the chemical messengers that transmit the signals throughout the body that control thought processes, behavior and emotion. Alcohol affects both “excitatory” neurotransmitters and “inhibitory” neurotransmitters.
An example of an excitatory neurotransmitter is glutamate, which would normally increase brain activity and energy levels. Alcohol suppresses the release of glutamate, resulting in a slowdown along your brain’s highways.
An example of an inhibitory neurotransmitter is GABA, which reduces energy levels and calms everything down. Drugs like Xanax and Valium increase GABA production in the brain, resulting in sedation. Alcohol does the same thing by increasing the effects of GABA. This, by the way, is one reason you don’t want to drink alcohol while taking benzodiazopenes the effects will be amplified, and that can slow your heart rate and respiratory system down to dangerous levels.
Below is a useful summary from the website HowStuffWorks explaining how alcohol affects different parts of the brain:
Pancreas Damage And Diabetes
Normally, this organ makes insulin and other chemicals that help your intestines break down food. But alcohol jams that process up. The chemicals stay inside the pancreas. Along with toxins from alcohol, they cause inflammation in the organ, which can lead to serious damage. After years, that means you wonât be able to make the insulin you need, which can lead to diabetes. It also makes you more likely to get pancreatic cancer.
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Straight To Your Head
Thirty seconds after your first sip, alcohol races into your brain. It slows down the chemicals and pathways that your brain cells use to send messages. That alters your mood, slows your reflexes, and throws off your balance. You also canât think straight, which you may not recall later, because youâll struggle to store things in long-term memory.
Thin Bones Less Muscle
Heavy drinking can throw off your calcium levels. Along with the hormone changes that alcohol triggers, that can keep your body from building new bone. They get thinner and more fragile, a condition called osteoporosis. Booze also limits blood flow to your muscles and gets in the way of the proteins that build them up. Over time, youâll have lower muscle mass and less strength.
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How Does Alcohol Work In The Brain
When a person ingests alcohol, it quickly enters the bloodstream, through the bloodstream, it enters the brain. In the brain, alcohol affects neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that either increase or decrease brain activity through electrical impulses. Alcohol addiction, unlike addictions to many other drugs, affects many different neurotransmitters at the same time, demonstrating why recovery can be so difficult for someone with Alcohol Use Disorder.
With regards to why many people associate alcohol with becoming more social, Gamma-aminobutyric acid is the answer. GABA helps rid the user of inhibitions and slows down the brain. Dopamine, Glutamate, and Serotonin stimulate pleasure and activate the brainâs reward center, giving it the signal that alcohol, like food, is good for your well-being. But serotonin and glutamate levels drop the more you drink, and as you consume more it can leave you feeling depressed.
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.
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.
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.
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How Much Is Too Much
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.
Finding Treatment For Alcoholism
Alcohol use disorders, or alcoholism, occur on a spectrum, and each person is unique. If you or someone you know is ready to discuss treatment, our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to speak with you today at Who Answers? Who answers the helpline calls. . The type of treatment that will be most suitable for you will likely be influenced by your alcohol history, other substance use history, previous attempts at treatment, any co-occurring medical and/or mental health conditions, and your current situation.
For further information on treatment during the pandemic, weve put together a guide that answers some of our most frequently asked questions:
As the leader in addiction treatment American Addiction Centers specializes in helping people recover from alcohol addiction. If you are looking for more information about alcohol addiction, find some useful information for those seeking guidance or you can learn more about insurance coverage and instantly verify insurance with an AAC facility:
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S Of The Brain Affected By Alcohol
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 51.6 percent of Americans over the age of 12 reported themselves as alcohol drinkers in 2008. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has reported what we all know: alcohol causes walking difficulties, slurred speech, blurred vision and adversely affects our reaction times. What parts of the brain is affected by alcohol?
What Are The Long
Alcohol can cause reversible and irreversible brain damage, particularly with heavy or persistent use. Of the approximately 20 million alcoholics in the United States, as many as half of them have various degrees of brain damage.
In studies, alcoholics have exhibited brain shrinkage and deficiencies in the white brain matter that carries information between cells. Brain scans of heavy drinkers indicate that alcohol negatively affects neurotransmission, brain cell metabolism, and blood flow within the frontal lobes and cerebellum. Chronic drinkers may develop permanent brain damage that results in severe medical conditions such as:
- Impaired learning, memory, movement, coordination.
- Psychological disturbances such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia
- Dementia, which affects memory and mental abilities such as language, reasoning, and problem solving
- Wet brain, a persistent amnesic disorder, which which results from vitamin B1 deficiency
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