What really happens to your brain when you drink
So many people drink to let loose and be social these days. Drinking alcohol has become a huge part of society. From the rights of passage that many partake in at college to work functions, weddings, birthdays, and get-togethers of all kinds, alcohol is no stranger to daily life.
If we take an honest look at the majority of social functions today, it is clear to see that almost all are largely based around cocktails and booze. Wherever we turn our heads, we see ads, commercials and offers for alcohol. It’s everywhere.
However, what we don’t see is what alcohol actually does to our bodies. Most people toss back drinks and shots while becoming intoxicated on a regular basis with little thought to what is happening with those martinis and cranberry vodkas once they hit our systems.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain?
When alcohol runs its course, we immediately feel some pretty major cognitive impairment such as slurred speech, trouble walking, blurry vision, slower reaction times, and difficulty with our memory.
This is because alcohol slows communication in the brain and acts as a depressant to the central nervous system. It impacts the movement between neurons and neurotransmitters, which are the command center for all major functions of the body including breath, speech, thought, and movement.
What Areas of The Brain Are Affected By Alcohol?
There are several regions of the brain that can be affected while consuming alcohol including the cerebellum, cerebral cortex, brain tissue and the limbic system.
Alcohol consumption can lead to severe damage in these parts of the brain, which subsequently leads to multiple issues such as short-term memory loss, decreased brain cells, depression, mood changes, poor sleep and alcohol dependence.
What Happens In The Brain While Under The Influence?
The brain has certain levels of neurotransmitters, which are the chemical runners that transfer and deliver vital signals throughout the body. When drinking alcohol, this chemistry in the brain is interrupted, and our neurotransmitters begin to have a hard time functioning as they normally do for our thought processes, behavior, and emotions.
According to an article written by Forbes about what alcohol really does to your brain, they go on to explain that, “Alcohol affects both “excitatory” neurotransmitters and “inhibitory” neurotransmitters,” such as:
- Glutamate – Responsible for energy levels and brain activity. Alcohol suppresses the release of glutamate causing the brain’s pathways to be slowed down tremendously.
- Gama-aminobutyric acid– GABA does the opposite. It is responsible for helping you calm down and reduce energy levels. Alcohol amplifies the production of GABA in the brain, which can lead to feelings of drowsiness.
- Dopamine – It is part of the reward center of the brain. Alcohol increases the release of dopamine in the reward center causing the brain into being tricked that the alcohol is making you feel great when it is actually simultaneously creating feelings of depression.
Blacking Out From Alcohol
For anyone who has ever had a drunken night, it’s no secret that drinking and memory loss go hand in hand.
In a study reported by The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, college students were surveyed in regards to blacking out. Some very interesting alcohol blackout facts were uncovered in this study. Here’s what they found:
The study asked 772 college undergraduates about their experiences with blackouts or memory lapses from alcohol. Each was asked the question, “Have you ever awoken after a night of drinking not able to remember things that you did or places that you went?”
Of the students who had consumed alcohol, 51 percent reported that they had blacked out at some point in their lives, and 40 percent reported experiencing a blackout within the year prior to the survey.
9.4 percent of those who stated they consumed alcohol within two weeks of the survey said they experienced a blackout during that timeframe.
What’s more interesting, is that some of the students also reported that they later found out “they had participated in a wide range of potentially dangerous events they could not remember, including vandalism, unprotected sex, and driving under the influence.”
Can Alcohol Cause Permanent Brain Damage?
According to an article published in The Wall Street Journal, “Experts say alcohol-related brain damage is under diagnosed and often confused with Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia or just getting older. Now, brain imaging is revealing how long-term alcohol abuse can change the structure of the brain, shrinking gray matter cells in areas that govern learning, memory, decision-making and social behavior, as well as damaging white-matter fibers that connect one part of the brain with others.”
As can be seen, drinking is a dangerous activity that can have severe and long-term effects on your brain and health. Whether you are a binge drinker or not, if you are abusing alcohol on any level, it’s important to seek help and become educated about the devastating effects alcohol can have on the brain over time.
Alcoholism is a widespread problem that affects millions of people every day. Alcohol treatment programs are available for those suffering from alcohol abuse issues. Contact us today to understand your options and how you can get started on the path to recovery.
What Alcohol Really Does To Your Brain, DiSalvo, David, Forbes Magazine, http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2012/10/16/what-alcohol-really-does-to-your-brain/#35332e8d413b Oct 2012
Alcohol’s Damaging Effects On The Brain, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm October 2004
The Effects of Chronic Heavy Drinking on Brain Function Are Underdiagnosed, Beck, Melinda, The Wall Street Journal, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-effects-of-chronic-heavy-drinking-on-brain-function-are-underdiagnosed-1450722803 December 2015