How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain
Ever wonder, What does alcohol do to your body? Particularly, how does alcohol affect the brain? The truth is the damage goes far beyond a headache and brain fog you experience the morning after drinking too much. The effects of alcohol on the brain are profound, and heavy drinking can set you up for some of the most dreaded brain diseases. The long-term effects of alcohol can completely rewire your brain, too, increasing the risk of depression and other conditions.
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 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.
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Teen Drinking Shot By Shot
AFTER ONE DRINK
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows the function of the central nervous system. So after one drink, because stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol drop, teens may feel more relaxed or less anxious. Since alcohol blocks some of the messages trying to get to the brain, it may also alter perceptions, emotions, movement, and hearing. Still, adolescents are much less sensitive than their adult counterparts to many of the undesired effects of alcohol, which normally serve as cues to moderate intake. So they can drink twice as much alcohol before feeling anything.
AFTER THREE DRINKS
More alcohol causes greater changes in the brain, reducing hand-eye coordination and often resulting in blurred vision and slurred speech and increasing the chances of a teen engaging in risky behavior. Driving accidents are common at this stage since the person is mobile, awake, and may think they’re “okay” to drive.
AFTER FIVE OR MORE DRINKS
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In Constant Fear: The Amygdala
The frontal lobe controls other parts of the brain, like the amygdala. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain. Without proper control from the frontal lobe, the amygdala becomes oversensitive to stress. In this state, someone can have extreme mood swings and become trapped in a state of panic and worry. Many addicts and alcoholics are constantly fearful and rarely feel safe. This is because the amygdala is overexcited.
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Alcohol Poisoning & Overdose
According to the CDC, an average of 6 people die every day in the U.S. from alcohol poisoning. Many of those deaths are as a result of binge drinking and are not from long-term alcohol use. Just one instance of excessive alcohol intake can result in an overdose, which may lead to brain damage or death.
Binge drinking means to consume a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time and is one of the most common causes of alcohol poisoning. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states binge drinking occurs when an individuals blood alcohol content is at .08 or higher, which is the threshold for legal intoxication in many states.
An overdose happens when more alcohol is consumed than the body can process, causing a toxic build-up. The extreme depressant effect of this much alcohol can cause irregular heartbeat, dangerously low body temperature, and slowed or stopped breathing.
The Mayo Clinic website lists possible indications of alcohol poisoning including confusion, vomiting, seizures, extremely slow breathing , irregular breathing , bluish or pale skin, hypothermia, and unconsciousness. An alcohol overdose is a medical emergency. If suspected, summon help immediately.
Scientists Pinpoint Brain Region That May Be Center Of Alcohol Addiction
Researchers map out a cellular mechanism that offers a biological explanation for alcoholism, and could lead to treatments
You can lead a lab rat to sugar water, but you cant make him drinkespecially if theres booze around.
New research published Thursday in Science may offer insights into why some humans who drink alcohol develop an addiction whereas most do not. After caffeine, alcohol is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world. For the majority of people the occasional happy hour beer or Bloody Mary brunch is where it stops. Yet we all know that others will drink compulsively, despite whatever consequence or darkness it brings.
A taste for sweetness is evolutionarily embedded in the mammalian brain; in the wild, sugar translates into fast calories and improved survival odds. For the new study, 32 rats were trained to sip a 20 percent alcohol solution for 10 weeks until it became habit. They were then presented with a daily choice between more alcohol or a solution of the noncaloric sweetener saccharine. The majority of rats vastly preferred the faux sugar over the alcohol option.
Heilig and his team believe they have already identified a promising addiction treatment based on their latest work, and have teamed up with a pharmaceutical company in hopes of soon testing the compound in humans. The drug suppresses the release of GABA and thus could restore levels of the neurotransmitter to normal in people with a dangerous taste for alcohol.
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Where To Get Help
- Your doctor
- A neuropsychologist, neurologist or AOD treatment service
- arbias specialist services for people with acquired brain injury including alcohol and substance related brain impairment Tel. 8388 1222
- Family Drug Help for information and support for people concerned about a relative or friend using drugs Tel. 1300 660 068
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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Alcohol And Brain Injury
Brain injury can be caused by alcohol because it:
- has a toxic effect on the central nervous system
- results in changes to metabolism, heart functioning and blood supply
- interferes with the absorption of vitamin B1 , which is an important brain nutrient
- may be associated with poor nutrition
- can lead to falls and accidents that injure the brain.
Understanding Alcoholic Blackouts And Memory Problems
Blackouts generally occur because the person has had too much to drink in too short a period of time. But you already knew that. Alcohol, in too large a quantity, impairs the brains ability to transfer memories from short-term to long-term memory, which is why people who blackout may be unable to remember large parts of their time intoxicated.
However, one thing worth noting is that blackouts are not exactly caused by a large;amount;of alcohol consumption. They are, specifically, caused by a sharp spike in blood-alcohol content. In other words, youre more like to blackout having six drinks in one hour than if you had 10 drinks slowly over the course of several hours.
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What Happens To Your Brain When You Quit Drinking
As weve noted above, an alcohol use disorder fundamentally changes the way certain key areas of the brain function. As the brain and body become more habituated to the presence of alcohol in the body, it becomes more difficult for a chronic drinker to quit drinking.
When they do decide to stop drinking, they will experience a condition known as withdrawal, as the brain resets back to its baseline functioning in the absence of alcohol. This means that the brain is no longer releasing the same levels of dopamine and other neurotransmitter chemicals that it was during chronic alcohol use. At the same time, the brain begins to restart the flow of other chemicals that were paused by alcohol.
For example, during withdrawal, the brain restarts the production of neurotransmitter chemicals that cause us feelings of stress and anxiety. While alcohol dampens the production of these neurotransmitters, they are present and active when sober. The release of these chemicals, in addition to other physical and chemical changes in the absence of alcohol, can lead an individual going through withdrawal to become more angry, depressed, frustrated, or tired than previously.
In addition to its effects on the brain, alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. Withdrawal often takes place within 48 hours of an individuals last drink and can lead to flu-like symptoms, including lack of energy, increased sweating, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and feelings of stress and anxiety.
Associations Between Behavior And Fcd
PLS regressions showed that in NM in PLC condition , ROI FCDs accounted for 7%, 23% and 5% of variance in mood/drug effects, motor and cognitive tasks, respectively. For the mood/drug factor, Calcarine lFCD , Cerebellum lFCD and Cerebellum gFCD ; for the motor factor, Cerebellum lFCD , Cerebellum gFCD and Thalamus lFCD ; and for the cognitive factor, Posterior Cingulate lFCD and Thalamus lFCD significantly contributed to predicting individual differences.
In NM in ALC condition , ROI FCDs accounted for 10%, 11% and 17% of variance in mood/drug effects, motor and cognitive tasks, respectively. For the mood/drug factor, Calcarine lFCD , Posterior Cingulate lFCD and Thalamus lFCD ; for the motor factor, Thalamus lFCD and Thalamus lFCD ; and for the cognitive factor, Calcarine gFCD significantly contributed to predicting individual differences.
In HD in PLC condition , ROIs FCDs accounted for 13%, 25% and 26% of variance in mood/drug effects, motor and cognitive tasks, respectively. For the mood/drug factor, Thalamus lFCD ; for the motor factor, Cerebellum lFCD and Cerebellum gFCD ; and for the cognitive factor, PFC lFCD , Calcarine gFCD , Cerebellum gFCD and Thalamus gFCD significantly contributed to predicting individual differences.
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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.
Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain
Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN
The primary effects of alcohol are mostly reflected in the way that the user reacts after drinking. Perhaps the most common reason for drinking is its effect on dopamine levels in the brain and the pleasure center, but there are many more angles to this.
Drinking affects the brain in various negative ways too. There are specific areas affected by these effects more than others, including the limbic system, thalamus, hypothalamus, frontal lobes, right hemisphere, and neurotransmitter systems. Any alcohol-induced damage to each one of these areas has a negative result on the user.
Take a look at these effects of drinking on the brain while reviewing the notion that the substance can kill brain cells especially when abused. For this, the text reviews the functions of the parts affected by drinking and the symptoms exhibited when these parts become damaged.
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Mechanism Of Action Of Alcohol In The Brain
When we consume alcohol, it reaches our bloodstream after some time and then reaches our brain as blood circulates through the body. In the brain, it binds to a variety of receptors of neurotransmitters, leading to diverse effects. Mainly, it binds to receptors of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and decreases the responsiveness of nerve cells. This type of overall reduction in brain activity is called central nervous system depression.
In addition, it also causes a similar inhibitory action in the spinal cord and the lower part of the brain, called the brain stem. It does this by interfering with the receptors of a neurotransmitter called glycine. Together, these lead to an overall relaxed state of being. The muscle movements of the person slow down, pupils relax, breathing slows, and there may be confusion and dizziness. Of these, the most notable effect is a lowering of social inhibition, allowing us to behave in ways that we typically wouldnt.
In addition to inhibitory action, alcohol also reduces the action of excitatory neurons, creating a sedative effect.
Alcohol acts on the cerebellum, a part of the brain that helps to coordinate movements, resulting in a decreased ability to coordinate muscle movements while walking, talking, etc.
Behaviours Linked With Arbi
Those people close to someone with ARBI may face a range of behaviours that cause problems. There are a number of possible causes or reasons for these types of behaviour, including medical problems, memory and thinking problems, physical discomfort, the side effects of medication or fatigue from lack of sleep. Alternatively, behaviours of concern may be a reaction to stress, anxiety, or a change or upset to daily routine.Some common behaviours include:
- untidiness and poor hygiene habits
- sexually inappropriate behaviour
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Disorders Linked With Arbi
ARBI is associated with changes in cognition , difficulties with balance and coordination, and a range of medical and neurological disorders. Some alcohol-related disorders include:
- Cerebellar atrophy the cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for muscle coordination. Damage results in difficulties with balance and walking, which is called ataxia.
- Frontal lobe dysfunction the brains frontal lobes are involved in abstract thinking, planning, problem solving and emotion. Damage results in cognitive difficulties.
- Hepatic encephalopathy many people with alcohol-related liver disease develop particular psychiatric symptoms, such as mood changes, confusion and hallucinations.
- Wernickes encephalopathy this is a disorder caused by a severe deficiency of vitamin B1. Some of the symptoms include ataxia, confusion and problems with vision.
- Korsakoffs amnesic syndrome this includes a loss of short-term memory, an inability to acquire new information and confabulation .
- Peripheral neuropathy the bodys extremities are affected by numbness, pain, and pins and needles.
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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