Alcohol is one of the most abused drugs in the world, with devastating consequences. Yet, most people drink in social activities or for recreation.
When alcohol is taken moderately, there is not much risk of having health problems. However, this is not always the case. Moderate drinking is a grey area that is interpreted differently by different people.
Worryingly, the number of people who use alcohol seems to be increasing day by day. For instance, in 2018, 82% of adults drank alcohol, with 49% consuming alcohol at least once a week.
Though moderate drinking is socially acceptable with few risks, excessive use of alcohol can cause severe effects.
Besides the physical effects of blurred vision, difficulty walking, and slurred speech, your brain is also affected.
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To understand the effects of alcohol on the brain, you should first understand how the alcohol is absorbed in the body.
Once you take alcohol, it takes less than 10 minutes to get to the brain. As soon as you swallow the drink, it gets into the stomach, absorbed directly in the stomach and the small intestines. Unlike other food, alcohol does not need to be digested. After the absorption, the drink gets into your bloodstream. Then, it is circulated to all organs in the body, including the brain.
Depending on the speed of absorption and the amount of alcohol, effects vary from one person to another. If you drink moderately, the effects may be mild as your liver can metabolise. However, the liver of a heavy drinker may be overwhelmed, leading to intoxication.
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First, your brain has the significant function of maintaining a balance of chemicals in the body to ensure proper coordination. Alcohol, as a depressant, takes a toll on your brain by interfering with the communication pathways or neurotransmitters.
Once in the brain, alcohol acts by inhibiting chemical signals between brain cells. As an immediate consequence, you experience symptoms such as slurred speech, blurred vision, and difficulty in walking.
As we have discussed earlier, the effects of alcohol vary from one person to another. The following factors can influence the variance and the extent of the impact:
The amount of alcohol taken: The amount of alcohol you take influences how your brain will be affected. As you take a drink, the liver metabolises the alcohol in the system at a constant rate.
When you take an excessive amount of alcohol, your liver will be overwhelmed in the metabolism of the alcohol; hence you become intoxicated. However, if you drink moderately, meaning you take a few drinks, your brain will not be affected severely. The reason is that your liver can metabolise alcohol in the system effectively without many effects on the brain.
How often do you take alcohol? Taking alcohol for a long time can result in learning and memory issues. In addition, as you drink heavily regularly, your brain is forced to adapt to the effects of alcohol as its proper functioning is disturbed.
Gender and age: Usually, males have a higher alcohol tolerance compared to females. This is because biologically, male bodies can metabolise faster than females. Similarly, younger people can handle the effects of alcohol better than older people who are at a higher risk of experiencing severe consequences, including brain effects.
Your general health status: If you have underlying issues such as mental problems, you are likely to suffer severe brain effects. On the same note, alcohol can worsen pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes.
The effects vary from mild to severe as you increase the amount of alcohol. For moderate drinkers, alcohol may make them more friendly, less stressed, and high.
As you drink heavily, you become intoxicated due to high amounts of alcohol in the bloodstream. When drunk, your brain gets affected, and your memory is impaired. Alcohol inhibits or blocks chemical signals in the brain, causing immediate symptoms such as blurred vision, poor memory, and slow muscle reflexes. Furthermore, your judgement is impaired, leading to poor motor coordination. In machine operations, your body coordination and decision capability ought to be in the best condition.
As your brain chemical changes occur due to alcohol, you will likely experience mood changes, such as depression, aggression, confusion, and euphoria. In worst cases, if you drink too much and too rapidly, you may suffer from alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous and severe condition caused when you take too much alcohol rapidly. By the time you get the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, your body ability to metabolise alcohol is stretched to its limits.
In alcohol poisoning, you are likely to experience effects in a short time, and they may be life-threatening. Your risk of alcohol poisoning increases if you engage in binge drinking. The following are symptoms common in alcohol poisoning:
In some instances, you can suffer fatal consequences from alcohol poisonings, such as coma and death.
Before we learn about the effects of alcohol, we should understand the nature of alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, which acts by reducing the activities in the brain. As a depressant, alcohol is a habit-forming substance when used regularly for a long time. With time, your body builds tolerance to alcohol. As a result, you need to take more alcohol than you used to feel the same effects.
Suppose you continue drinking excessively for a long time. In that case, your brain adapts to the impacts of alcohol and your normal daily activities. At this stage, your craving for alcohol is high, and your body relaxes once you take a drink. But, ultimately, you become physically dependent on alcohol to the point of addiction.
In addition, continued use of alcohol can affect your mental health. Those who drink for a long time are likely to suffer from mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. In addition, long-term excessive alcohol use leads to mental confusion, poor coordination, learning and memory lapses, and eye movement problems for some people.
In some cases, excessive long-term alcohol abuse causes brain shrinkage, reducing the volume of grey matter in the brain.
The risk of brain damage is high for teenagers, considering they are still in their development stage. In addition, since the brain part that is mainly affected is still in development, teenagers are likely to suffer significant brain damage such as alcohol-related dementia.
As alcohol dependence develops into addiction, you may experience adverse health and social/psychological consequences in life. For example, long-term alcohol abuse causes liver, heart, and nerve problems, strained personal relationships, poor work performance/management.
According to the available research, women’s bodies are affected more by alcohol compared to males. However, females have low tolerance and get intoxicated faster than men when it comes to alcohol tolerance. The explanation is, women have a low metabolism rate; hence alcohol remains for long in their system.
Therefore, alcohol effects on a woman’s brain will be more severe and occur in a short time compared to men. Nevertheless, both men and women on long-term excessive drinking will have effects on their brains.
No research shows alcohol kills your brain cells. However, we know alcohol negatively affects by interfering with the functioning of the brain. Studies also show alcohol’s association with neurogenesis, which affects the growth and development of new brain cells.
During pregnancy, women are strongly advised not to take alcohol at all. This is because, in the womb, the unborn child gets food and other substances from the mother through the placenta.
In the first three months of pregnancy, the risk of miscarriage is high if a mother takes alcohol.
After three months of pregnancy, alcohol can affect the proper growth and development of an unborn child. This is because a baby’s liver develops and matures in the later stages of pregnancy. As a result, the baby is pretty defenceless against the effects of alcohol.
If you drink alcohol moderately, you may experience euphoric feelings that may help you in anxiety and boost your social interaction. However, when taken in large amounts, alcohol acts as a depressant and presents a risk to your mental health.
As a depressant, excessive alcohol use can cause or worsen pre-existing mental problems, such as depression and anxiety. Other mental effects include memory lapse and dementia.
Note: Are you struggling with alcoholism? You can always seek and find help. Please call 0203 955 7700, and an experienced professional is ready to help you recover from an alcohol problem.
Since we have learnt about the consequences of alcohol, your first step should be to find a way of quitting alcohol. Of course, some people may argue that they drink moderately. Still, the truth is that the likelihood of getting addicted or growing dependent to alcohol is high.
If you have a problem with alcohol abuse, a doctor may take you through detox treatment. Qualified professionals mainly do a detox at a rehab.
After you stop alcohol, your brain can heal, and many effects are reversed. For example, with a sober brain, you can improve your mental and cognitive performance. Similarly, you start to make more rational decisions and sound judgments.
There is no perfect time to seek treatment and help. Just do it now. Call us on 0203 955 7700, and an experienced professional is ready to help you recover from alcohol abuse.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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