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How Alcohol Abuse Affects the Brain

Wednesday, 02 August 2017 06:00  by Taylor S.

When most people think of health, they think of the condition of their body and its organs. Alcohol abuse causes damage to a number of organs and systems in the body, and these conditions are well documented. Some of the more notable effects of alcohol on the body include a breakdown of the digestive system, tissue damage in the digestive tract, and an inability to properly absorb nutrients. The circulatory system can also be seriously affected resulting in high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke.

Alcoholism can also have more intangible effects on your life. It often damages relationships with family and friends. With an addiction, the alcohol becomes more important than anything or anyone in your life. Addiction to alcohol changes your priorities and your demeanor. Relationships are damaged when alcohol affects your behavior and comes between you and the people you love. It is impossible to build and nurture a healthy relationship and uphold your responsibilities to the people in your life while you are in the throws of addiction.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol begins to affect your brain from the very first drink. The high you feel from consuming alcohol is the result of its influence on your brain chemistry. Alcohol taps into the chemical messaging system in your brain and central nervous system. It alters your perceptions by through your brain’s messaging system. Alcohol binds to receptors in your brain where your natural brain chemicals should go and hijacks the controls.

While you are actively consuming alcohol, and it is flooding your brain with impostor chemical messages, these short-term effects can be observed:

  • Memory impairment - Alcohol interferes with your brain’s ability to encode information and move it between short- and long-term memory.
  • Poor decision-making - When you are drunk, the part of the brain that is responsible for making decisions is impaired. This can cause you to make poor decisions, such as unsafe sex or other risky behaviors.
  • Dangerous behaviors - People seem more outgoing and social when they are drinking, but this is also part of the depressant effect happening in the brain. Fear is suppressed, and behavior can range from socially brave to life-threateningly dangerous.
  • Coordination impairment - An inability to walk properly is part of the poor coordination you may experience when under the influence of alcohol. It is a sign that the alcohol is depressing your central nervous system, slowing your movements, and interfering with your ability to balance. Reaction times are also slowed, which is one of many reasons why driving under the influence of alcohol is never a good idea.
  • Slurred speech - Speech is a complex coordination in the brain between language abilities and muscle movement in the face and throat. When motor skills are depressed by alcohol, speech becomes affected by slurring that can become so severe, no intelligible words come out.
  • Black outs - This is a sign your brain is shutting down non-essential functions to divert all available energy to basic life support.

Short-term effects of alcohol seem to resolve when you stop drinking. Your ability to walk and speak clearly return when the alcohol is out of your system. In many ways, you feel like you are back to normal — except for the potential hangover.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

The short-term effects of alcohol on the brain seem to resolve, and in most cases, your brain can repair any damage that was done. Long-term alcohol abuse, however, compounds the damage to your brain and have deeper and longer lasting effects.

The long-term effects of alcohol on the brain involve three important neurotransmitters:

  • Dopamine - This is an important feel-good chemical your brain produces naturally. Alcohol consumption causes your brain to release more dopamine to create that euphoric feeling. You also develop a craving for dopamine, and your brain knows you get it from drinking alcohol. That is how addiction develops. The long-term effect is your brain turns down its natural production of dopamine, so you only get that good feeling when drinking alcohol. When not under the influence, you may experience depression, delusions, aggression, muscle spasms and hallucinations.
  • GABA - Alcohol increases the amount of this neurotransmitter in your brain which gives you that sedated feeling. Long-term effects of high GABA levels can include shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and night terrors.
  • Endorphins - These natural chemicals help you tolerate pain and can create a euphoric effect. Alcohol consumption increases your brain’s release of endorphins. The long-term effects of high endorphin levels can include low sex drive, depression, infertility, and extreme fatigue.

The long-term effects of alcohol on the brain can be healed in some cases when the addiction is ended. The brain’s ability to heal itself from alcohol damage depends on the length of the addiction, the amount of alcohol consumed, other health conditions, and a number of other factors.

Brain Damage From Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is addictive because it gets into the pleasure centers of your brain and affects your behavior. It uses the part of your brain that naturally develops habits to create a habit of seeking pleasure through alcohol consumption.

The long-term effects of alcohol on your brain can be debilitating and greatly diminish your quality of life. When you stop using alcohol, your brain has a chance to heal and develop healthier habits for creating euphoria. Addiction cannot be overcome without professional help, though.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, contact Brookhaven Retreat today for help.

Last modified on Thursday, 17 August 2017 12:27

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