What Are the Effects of Alcohol Consumption on the Brain?

What Are the Effects of Alcohol Consumption on the Brain?

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Certain effects such as slurred speech or losing balance may be evident. Others, such as cell death, can be harder to detect.

Drinking a glass of wine at dinner, a happy hour drink after work, a glass of wine (or three) while on vacation: Alcohol is embedded in American society, and to many people, alcohol has become a regular part of their everyday life.

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A study from 2018 that was published in The Lancet indicates that there isn’t an acceptable level of alcohol consumption. Even low amounts of alcohol consumption could be detrimental to your health, while higher levels of alcohol consumption cause more consequences. Certain impacts such as impaired memory and slurred speech are quite obvious other effects, like chronic cellular damage, may not be as apparent.


In accordance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans drinking moderately is defined as having one or fewer drinks per day for women, and two or fewer drinks per day for males.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define heavy drinking for women as having 8 or more beverages in a week, and for men, drinking fifteen or more beverages in a week.


What is the place where binge drinking fits in the picture? Based on the CDC the definition of binge drinking refers to the consumption of more than four alcoholic drinks for women or five or more alcoholic drinks for males at the same time.


Have you ever thought about what’s really happening inside the brain when someone has drunk too much Here’s a quick overview?


Short-Term Effects of Alcohol


Alcohol consumption alters the level of neurotransmitters within the brain According to Maria Pagano, Ph.D., an addiction researcher and associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. These chemical messengers transmit messages throughout the body and have a significant role to play in regulating emotions, behavior as well as physical activities.


“For starters, alcohol slows down the neurotransmitter GABA, and that’s what drives the sluggish movement, slurred speech, and slower reaction time in someone who’s intoxicated,” Pagano said. Pagano. In addition, Pagano added, alcohol boosts a neurotransmitter named glutamate that is responsible for controlling dopamine’s activity in the brain’s reward center. “It’s generating feelings of pleasure and well-being,” explained Pagano. “That’s why you might get that warm, fuzzy feeling when you’re drinking.”



Alcohol can also reduce inhibitions and impairs judgment, which can lead people to engage in dangerous behaviors such as sexually exposing themselves to harm or driving drunk. If a person suffers from an untreated mental condition such as bipolar disorder or depression, drinking alcohol can cause anxiety, and for bipolar disorder drinking alcohol can worsen symptoms and cause mood swings to increase.


Binge drinking may also affect the cerebellum (which aids in controlling balance) as well as the brain cortex (which helps in absorbing and processing new information). If these parts of the brain slow down, people may be shaky and dizzy when walking, suffer from unclear or blurred vision, and may have trouble paying attention to what is happening around them. “Your sensory uptake has been dulled, so you’re not going to be taking in new information as well,” Pagano said. Pagano.



The hippocampus area of the brain that aids in the creation of new memories is additionally affected by alcohol and contributes to short-term memory loss and blackouts. lose when drinking. According to a review in 2020 published in The journal Alcohol Research that women and men suffer from alcohol-induced blackouts at the same amounts, even though women drink less frequently and drink less frequently than males.


In extreme cases drinking alcohol at a rapid rate can lead to an inability to think. “We worry about that for safety reasons, of course, but this is also a sign of cell death,” explained Lara Ray, a Ph.D. psychologist at the University of California Los Angeles Brain Research Institute. “So we also worry about brain damage–and with multiple episodes of heavy drinking, that damage can have long-term consequences for learning and memory.”


The majority of these reactions result from a rise in blood-alcohol levels within a brief time, according to Ray. Making sure to take breaks between drinks and being careful not to consume alcohol on an empty stomach can decrease the chance of having these effects yourself.


Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

A night of drinking alcohol can make you vulnerable to embarrassing injuries, humiliation, or making poor choices. If you frequently consume alcohol, it can end up permanently affecting your health.


Shrinks Your Brain

According to a study from 2021 published in Scientific Reports, Heavy drinking can cause a decline in brain volume. Researchers discovered that people who suffered from alcohol-related disorders (AUD) were less likely to have brain tissue than those without AUD. The brain regions affected by AUD were responsible for regulating skills such as attention and language, memory, and reasoning. By altering your brain the effects of alcohol could cause a decrease in memory as well as impaired judgment, in addition to other effects.


Another study suggests that alcohol may affect memory. Drinking heavily can increase the rate of memory loss in the early years of old age, at the very least for males, as per an article published in 2014 published in the journal neurology. The study found that those who consumed more than two drinks in a day showed symptoms of cognitive decline from two to six years prior to those who didn’t drink or quit drinking or were moderate or light alcohol drinkers (results for women were not conclusive, authors noted).


Increased Tolerance and Dependence

If you drink frequently, you might also notice that alcohol hasn’t the same effect on them as it did in the past. “With chronic drinking, the wiring element to your brain’s reward system can get worn out and lose some of its normal functioning,” explained 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.”


The brain’s changes can cause people to alter their behavior around alcohol. “They become much more likely to seek alcohol and to rely on it to cope with negative feelings,” Ray said. Ray. “Often when people start drinking, they drink to feel good–but as they drink more chronically, they have to drink to avoid feeling bad.”


Cell Death and Brain Damage

Consuming alcohol to prevent feeling sick results in higher and higher levels of consumption. This could cause more damage to the brain as well as the other organs part of our body. Alcohol damages cells and kills them. the brain’s cellular networks for example it’s not known how they’ll grow back.


“You might hear the classic term ‘wet brain,’ and that’s a real thing,” Pagano said. Pagano. As per NINDS National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke(NINDS), “wet brain” is technically referred to as Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome. It’s a form of dementia that is caused due to a deficiency in Thiamine, or vitamin B1 within the brain. Alcohol can hinder the absorption of thiamine, and also inhibits the enzyme that transforms it into a useful form within the body.


“Chronic drinking can really alter a person’s personality,” said Pagano. “I’ve seen cases where I wouldn’t recognize a patient based on how they’re acting.” Damage to the brain (and symptoms such as brain fog) may occur due to liver cirrhosis as well as other common complications of drinking heavily for a long time.


When you cut down on alcohol consumption, Pagano stated that the damaged regions of the brain could begin getting “light up” again on brain scans. “But there are certain limits,” said Pagano, “and we often see improvement only after months of complete abstinence and giving the brain time to heal.”


The brain is a target for damage caused by alcohol. (and your body) could be fatal A study conducted in 2018 released in The Lancet those who had more than 10 drinks per week experienced one to two years less life expectancy than those who had less than five drinks per week.


This number rose to the four- or five-year mark for those who consumed at least 18 drinks each week. The study found that drinking alcohol was connected to a variety of cardiovascular issues including stroke, which can be fatal. obstruction that can cause brain damage.


How Much Is Too Much?

The decision of whether or not someone is drinking alcohol should be a choice they decide on their own or with the assistance of a psychiatrist or a mental health specialist. For many people who do not have any history of dependency or abuse, Pagano advised that drinking moderately or at a low level–no less than 7 drinks per week for women and not more than 14 per week for men — can be an appropriate part of daily life.


However, if you’ve got an alcohol-related reaction that is distinct from that of other people and it’s an opportunity to review your drinking habits as suggested by Pagano. “If you can drink other people under the table, or you see your friends leaving alcohol in their glasses and you know you could never do that yourself, those are signals you’ve got a genetic setup for developing an addiction,” Pagano said. Pagano.


Ray said that certain people are able to stay in those diet guidelines for 2020-2025 Americans guidelines for moderate-risk drinking–one or fewer drinks per day for women, and two or fewer drinks per day for males, others may have difficulty adhering to these guidelines because of genetics, stressful life events or any other factors that increase risk. This is something to keep in mind, according to Ray since researchers have observed an increase in alcohol-related disorders and heavy drinking in recent years, particularly in women.


It’s important to know the guidelines for diets in 2020-2025 to Americans also declare that certain people should abstain from drinking alcohol entirely for those who:


  • They may be expecting or think they might
  • intending to drive a car or operate machines
  • performing the activities that require coordination or alertness
  • using medicines that are incompatible with alcohol
  • managing a medical issue that can be made more difficult through drinking alcohol
  • Recovering from alcohol-related disorders (AUD)
  • not yet 21 years old. U.S. legal drinking age of 21


Alcohol can be an effective social lubricant, and could offer “liquid courage” for people who are timid or anxious, Pagano warned against relying on alcohol too much. “If drinking allows you to engage in behavior you wouldn’t engage in otherwise, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it,” said Pagano. “And if you always use it to have a good time, you won’t learn how to be okay in social situations without it.”


If you decide to quit drinking, Pagano says there are plenty of reasons to be positive. “A lot of people fear giving it up and not being able to drink,” said Pagano. “But in reality, life can get better when you’re making better choices and you’re able to fully savor your experiences, rather than seeing them through a haze.”


Alcohol isn’t always easy to handle. The law allows it (if you’re older than 21) and is often utilized in social settings and can provide certain health benefits when consumed in moderate amounts. However, if it’s consumed in excess or in certain settings there are some very negative effects. If you suspect that you are having issues with alcohol in your health or life and you need help in getting control back consult your physician or contact toll-free the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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