Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain
Almost one-third of our population meets the criteria for an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lifetime.1 Alcohol is one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States, with about 85% of people reporting that theyve drank alcohol in their lifetime and over 25% reporting that theyve engaged in binge drinking of 0.08 g/dL or higher) within the past month.2
Though alcohol is considered socially acceptable to consume in most parts of the world, heavy alcohol use can prove detrimental to a persons physical and mental wellbeing and the overall physiological health of their brain. Heavy or long-term alcohol use can result in learning and memory issues and can also eventually lead to the development or exacerbation of mental health conditions.3
The brain is a delicate and intricate organ that must maintain a careful balance of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, for a person to function properly. Alcohol intoxication can disrupt this fine balance, disturbing the brains natural equilibrium and long-term, chronic use forces a persons brain to adapt in an effort to compensate for the effects of alcohol.
Attention Span And Concentration
Binge drinking, heavy drinking, and long-term drinking have a big effect on attention span and work performance. Doctors can tell if you have been drinking excessively by testing your blood alcohol concentration.
Attention deficits have been exhibited in patients who drink excessive alcohol more than once a week. Compromises memory processing has also been reported in adults 25 years of age and younger, which can lead to trouble in school and work. These may not be as severe as permanent brain damage, but they can still have lasting effects on a persons mental health.
Further, adults who participate in excessive drinking regularly frequently experience hangovers or symptoms that result from drinking alcohol. Symptoms of hangovers include:
Hangovers cause poor performance and conflict at work and school, which have consequences that can vary from poor mental health to verbal reprimand, termination, or expulsion.
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.
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Blackouts From Drinking Alcohol
Blackouts are one of the effects of alcohol and although they are usually seen in the short term, it can also cause them and become more repetitive and of a greater nature over time. This consequence is known as alcoholic amnesia or blackouts , which are produced by an interruption in the functions of the hippocampus, the most important structure of memory.
During those times, the person may perform basic activities, however, they have an inability to create new memories . This is a dangerous scenario since it puts the alcohol consumer in a situation of vulnerability and risk, mainly for women because they have fewer levels of an enzyme that is responsible for diluting the alcohol in the body.
The Risk Of Alcohol Addiction Is Serious
One of the most dangerous long term effects of alcohol is the risk of developing a dependence. Once a person develops an addiction, its tough to cut back or quit. Typically, patients will need detox, addiction treatment and continuing care in order to achieve and maintain sobriety.
Identifying the long term effects of alcohol shows just how dangerous this common substance can truly be. Take steps to conquering alcohol abuse or addiction for good. Call Ashley Addiction Treatment today at 866-313-6307 to learn how provide the recovery support needed for lifelong sobriety.
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How Alcohol Causes Brain Damage
When alcohol enters the body, it travels from the stomach and intestines through the bloodstream to various organs. In the liver, spikes in blood alcohol content caused by heavy drinking overload its ability to process alcohol. So, excess alcohol journeys from the liver to other parts of the body, like the heart and central nervous system. Subsequently, alcohol moves through the blood-brain barrier, affecting the brains neurons directly. There are over 100 billion interconnected neurons in the brain and central nervous system. As a toxic substance, drinking alcohol can damage, or even kill, neurons.
Research shows that sustained periods of drinking lead to overall shrinkage of the brain.
Alcohol is often described as a downer because it slows down signals sent between neurons. Additionally, certain automatic brain processes controlled by the cerebellum and cerebral cortex are impaired or slowed . It also slows GABA neurotransmitters, resulting in slurred speech, lethargic movements, and reduced reaction time. Conversely, alcohol causes the rapid release of glutamate neurotransmitters . This creates the warm, fuzzy feelings many associate with drinking.
What Is Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse is the persistent misuse of alcohol. Alcohol use is considered an alcohol use disorder . An alcohol use disorder occurs when a persons drinking causes them any harm, distress, legal, financial or social problems. AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe based on the number of symptoms experienced.
In order to better understand alcohol use, it may help to know whats considered moderate drinking. Moderate drinking involves having up to two standard drinks per day for men and up to one standard drink per day for women. A standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces of pure ethanol.
Standard drinks are better known as:
- Regular beer 12 fluid ounces
- Craft beer Eight to nine fluid ounces
- Malt liquor Eight to nine fluid ounces
- Table wine Five fluid ounces
- Fortified wine Two to three fluid ounces
- 80-proof hard liquor 1.5 fluid ounces
Depending on the type of hard liquor or mixed drink recipe, one mixed drink may include three or more standard drinks. Hard liquor includes rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, and other spirits.
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What Is Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is a dangerous practice that can cause physical harm. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism classifies binge drinking as a drinking pattern that leads to a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08 g/dL and above.6 For adult women, thats typically around 4 drinks within a couple of hours of each other.6
Why Should You Seek Professional Help
If youre concerned with your use of alcohol, youre not alone. Over 14 million adults in the United States suffer from some form of alcohol abuse disorder. However, less than 9% received any form of treatment. For this reason, most people with an alcohol abuse disorder feel that they have no options or are a lost cause.
Alcohol abuse does not happen suddenly, and it is not a quiet or hidden disorder there are many signs and symptoms that point to alcohol abuse. Signs that it is time to seek treatment include:
- Drinking more than intended
- Irritability or restlessness when not under the influence of alcohol
If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or anyone else, it may be time to seek help from a healthcare professional. It may seem shameful to ask for help because you think you can stop drinking whenever you want to, but asking for help is a necessary step in the recovery process. You cant start your recovery until you admit that you need to recover.
There are several forms of treatment for alcohol abuse, and they can all help develop skills needed to stop or reduce drinking:
Regardless of the origin of the drinking problem, there is no shame in seeking professional help for an alcohol abuse problem. Personalized programs are even possible since each case is unique and should be approached as such.
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The Impact Of Alcohol
Overall, alcohol is linked to over 200 diseases, conditions, and injuries. In 2010, alcohol abuse was responsible for 2.8% of all deaths in the US. While it can take years of heavy drinking for diseases like alcohol-related brain damage to appear, negative effects on the brain materialize after only a few drinks.
As an individual consumes alcohol, he or she will begin to feel the depressant effects it has on the brain. As the bodys control center, the impairing effects of alcohol quickly impede the normal function of areas all over the body. Short-term symptoms indicating reduced brain function include difficulty walking, blurred vision, slowed reaction time, and compromised memory. Heavy drinking and binge drinking can result in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system.
How Does Alcohol Impact The Body
Long-term alcohol use can cause cancer of the liver, mouth, tongue, throat, esophagus, and stomach. Organs that may be damaged by long-term alcohol use include:
The effects of alcohol on each persons body will vary based on their age, gender, amount of alcohol consumed, use of medications, and overall physical health. Too much alcohol can severely impact anyones body.
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Does Alcohol Consumption Damage The Brain
In the central nervous system, alcohol can cause numerous adverse effects on critical regions including the brain, nerves and spinal cord. After just a couple of alcoholic beverages, these negative consequences might occur. However, some consequences may take a bit more time to develop.
- Age- The developing brain during the teenage years is very vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.
- Amount and frequency- Binge drinking, heavy drinking, and overall chronic alcohol abuse are all very harmful.
- Prenatal alcohol exposure- Exposure during pregnancy has the potential to cause fetal alcohol syndrome. It affects the fetuss developmental, cognitive, and behavioral development.
- General health status- It creates long-term and short-term mental and physical health issues.
- Gender- Women are more susceptible to suffering many of the mental and physical health effects of alcohol than men.
Heavy Drinking Can Lead To Pancreatitis
When a person drinks alcohol, the pancreas releases a toxic substance. This causes inflammation. In small amounts, the damage might not be harmful. Over time, however, it can cause pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, can inhibit digestion. That could make eating a challenge, which could lead to malnutrition.
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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 . 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:
Guidelines To Reduce Health Risks From Alcohol
In 2009, the National Health and Medical Research Council released guidelines to reduce the health risks from alcohol consumption. To avoid these health risks, the guidelines recommend:
- for men and women a maximum of two standard alcoholic drinks a day
- children and young people for children and young people under the age of 18 not drinking alcohol is the safest option. Children under 15 are at greatest risk of harm from drinking and so not drinking alcohol is most important for this group. Delaying the age at which drinking begins is strongly recommended for young people between the age of 15 and 17.
- pregnant and breastfeeding women the safest choice is not to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, pregnant or if you are planning a pregnancy.
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Alcohol Impacts Brain Function Permanently
Anyone who has consumed a drink or two knows that alcohol can cause short-term cognitive impairment. However, alcohols impact on the brain extends well beyond any hangover.
Alcohol consumption kills brain cells. When these brain cells die, they wont be replaced. Thats why heavy or chronic drinking can permanently impact brain function as well as communication throughout the body.
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.
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How Alcohol Affects Our Brain Chemistry
The brain relies on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions and sometimes our long-term mental health. This is partly down to neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve in the brain to another.
For example, the relaxed feeling we can experience if we have a drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol has caused in the brain. A drink can make some people feel more confident and less anxious, as the alcohol begins to suppress the part of the brain associated with inhibition.
As we drink more, the impact on our brain function increases. And regardless of the mood were in, with increasing alcohol consumption, its possible that negative emotions will take over, leading to a negative impact on mental health. Alcohol can be linked to aggression and some people report becoming angry, aggressive, anxious or depressed when they drink.
Alcohol And The Older Brain
As we get older, the bodys ability to process and clear alcohol from your body changes. For example, there is a reduction in your muscle mass as you get older. There is also less water stored in the body. This means that alcohol becomes more concentrated in our system.
As we age, we are also more likely to:
- experience physical health problems
- take medication
- be at greater risk for other disorders of the brain, for example, dementia
Because of this, older people tolerate alcohol less well than younger people. They are more sensitive to the negative effects of alcohol. This means they experience more harms from alcohol use than other adults.
Physical problems can happen at lower levels of drinking in older people.
It can lead to an increased risk or likelihood of making some health problems worse.
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Finding An Alcohol Rehab Center In North Jersey
If you or a loved one are struggling with an alcohol addiction, then New Jersey intensive outpatient programs can help.
We offer a full variety of treatment options for those with alcohol addiction, co-occurring disorders, and medical needs that require partial hospitalization. Our goal is a well-rounded approach to addiction treatment that treats the whole addiction and not just the substance or the symptoms. Liberty Wellness is a drug and alcohol rehab center in Berlin, NJ. Contact us today to learn more about our we can help you today.
Increased Tolerance And Dependence
People who drink regularly may also notice that booze doesn’t have the same effect on them as it used to. “With chronic drinking, the wiring element to your brain’s reward system can get worn out and lose some of its normal functioning,” said Pagano. “You build up a tolerance, and after a while, you don’t feel as good as you once did with the same amounts of alcohol.”
These changes in the brain also cause people to change their behaviors around alcohol. “They become much more likely to seek alcohol and to rely on it to cope with negative feelings,” said Ray. “Often when people start drinking, they drink to feel goodâbut as they drink more chronically, they have to drink to avoid feeling bad.”
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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.