Your Brain on Drugs: Alcohol
Alcohol is the most commonly consumed drug in the world. For most Americans, drinking alcohol is a part of their daily lives. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), about 17.6 million of these people are abusing alcohol. The legalization and mass commericalization of alcohol has a lot to do with the normalcy of “having a drink” but the real dangers lie in not knowing what alcohol really does to your body and most importantly to your brain. Alcohol affects the brain and every part of the body on a cellular level. Alcohol affects the brain in multiple ways because it is the part of your body that control’s the rest of your body’s functions. When we drink alcohol it slowly seeps into our brain affecting the different parts the more you drink.
Your Brain on Alcohol: The Cerebral Cortex
The cerebral cortex in your brain is the first thing to go while drinking. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that takes in information from your senses and thoughts, and initiates most of your voluntary muscle movements. The cerebral cortex part of your brain also has control over some of the lower brain centers. When your brain is on alcohol it affects the cerebral cortex by impairing your thought process which leads you to have poor judgment. Sound familiar? Running naked down the street, choosing to drive even though you are drunk, sleeping with that stranger? That’s all because of cerebral cortex. Your brain on alcohol is also affected in the cerebral cortex by causing the lessening of inhibition which is what leads you to be more confident and talkative. Are you that person that becomes the life of the party after a few drinks? Or maybe you know this person. Alcohol’s affect on the cerebral cortex is why this happens. So when alcohol seeps into the cerebral cortex-you do dumb stuff and don’t care. Alcohol in your brain’s cerebral cortex also blunts the senses and increases your pain threshold.
Your Brain on Alcohol: The Cerebellum
The next part of your brain to be affected by alcohol is the cerebellum. The cerebellum coordinates your muscle movement. The cerebral cortex and cerebellum work together by relaying messages. The cerebral cortex causes movement by sending messages through the medulla and spinal cord to the muscles. As these messages are sent through the medulla they are influenced by nerve impulses, which are sent from the cerebellum. The cerebellum controls those fine movements, like balance and walking. This is why when you drink you run into stuff and you are asked to walk the line after being pulled over. Once your cerebellum is affected by alcohol you are pretty drunk and definitely should not be driving and or even walking.
Your Brain on Alcohol: The Medulla
The medulla is the last part of your brain that is affected by drinking alcohol but it’s probably the most important. If you have drunk yourself into oblivion then your brain is essentially drowning in alcohol. So guess what the medulla does? The medulla controls those very important but unrealized things that happen automatically. For example, your heart rate, temperature, and breathing. When alcohol reaches the medulla you will start to feel sleepy and there is a potential for death. Increased drinking after this point can lead to you becoming unconscious and if you have drunk yourself into alcohol poisoninig you could vomit unvoluntarily and choke to death. This area of the brain handles such automatic functions as breathing, consciousness and body temperature. By acting on the medulla, alcohol induces sleepiness. It can also slow breathing and lower body temperature, which can be life threatening.
And the point is…
that obviously our brain doesn’t function well on alcohol. This is just an example of what one night of over drinking can do. We have yet to describe the long term effects that alcohol has on the brain nor the addictive potential of alcohol. It also doesn’t describe the terrifying and horrific withdrawal from alcohol that happens after you become physically dependent. Here is a brief overview of some more long-term effects of your brain on alcohol.
- Memory loss, blackouts, and exaggerated states of emotion
- Problems with coordination and muscle movement
- Depressed nerve centers in hypothalamus that control sexual arousal and performance
- Affected heart rate, temperature, and breathing; can lead to unconsciousness and death
- Brain shrinkage
- Thiamine deficiency, which can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes, and difficulty with muscle coordination) and Korsakoff’s psychosis (persistent learning and memory problems)
- Learning difficulties (especially in adolescents who abuse alcohol)
- Slowing of neurogenesis, of the growth of new brain cells
- Sleep impairment, as alcohol decreases REM sleep and sleep apnea
- Delirium tremens (a state of confusion accompanied by trembling and vivid hallucinations) from alcohol withdrawal
- Peripheral neuropathy, leading to a loss of sensation
- Mental and physical deficiencies from fetal alcohol syndrome diagnosis in infants (last throughout their entire lives)
When you are intoxicated your brain is impaired and does not function properly. This is not including what happens when you try to stop drinking alcohol after getting addicted. Here is a list of alcohol withdrawal symptoms which are all due to your brains addiction to it:
- A state of confusion and hallucinations (visual) — known as delirium tremens
- “Black outs” — when the person forgets what happened during the drinking episode
- Headache – general, pulsating
- Sweating, especially the palms of the hands or the face
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Insomnia, sleeping difficulty
- Rapid heart rate (palpitations)
- Eyes, pupils different size (enlarged, dilated pupils)
- Skin, clammy
- Abnormal movements
- Tremor of the hands
- Involuntary, abnormal movements of the eyelids
- Feeling of jumpiness or nervousness
- Feeling of shakiness
- Irritability or easily excited
- Emotional volatility, rapid emotional changes
- Difficulty with thinking clearly
- Bad dreams
Worst case scenario from alcohol withdrawal is death due to one of the withdrawal symptoms. Most people who are addicted to alcohol need outside help because alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. Alcohol may provide some people with a little buzz but when taken to the extreme and abused it is far from pleasureable or comfortable – it’s outright misery. It may be legal to consume but alcohol is more dangerous than other drugs out there in the effects it can have on your brain.
If your loved one is in need of alcohol addiction treatment please give us a call at 800-951-6135.