Like most body organs, the brain is susceptible to injury from alcohol consumption. People who have been drinking significant quantities of alcohol for many years run the risk of developing severe and persistent issues in the brain.
Effects of alcohol on the brain
The effects of alcoholism on the brain are diverse and are influenced by extensive variables. These consist of the age at which the patient began drinking, the patient’s genetic background and any family history of alcoholism, the amount of alcohol consumed, the patient’s age, gender, level of education, and neuropsychiatric risk factors, which include general health status and alcohol exposure before birth.
When alcohol enters the body, it starts to move from the stomach and intestines and expands to different organs through the bloodstream. In the liver, spikes in blood alcohol content overload its ability to process the alcohol ingested. Excess alcohol then travels to other body parts, such as the central nervous system and heart. The alcohol then travels through the blood-brain barrier, and it directly affects the brain’s neurons. There are billions of interconnected neurons in the brain and central nervous system. As a toxic substance, alcohol can severely damage and sometimes even kill neurons.
Why is alcohol called a “downer”?
Alcohol often gets described as a “downer” because it slows down indicators sent among neurons. It additionally slows GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurotransmitters, leading to slurred speech, sluggish movements, and reduced response time. In addition, automatic brain processes managed by the cerebellum and cerebral cortex are also impaired or slowed (i.e., breathing, processing new information, and balance). Contrarily, alcohol causes the rapid release of glutamate neurotransmitters (responsible for dopamine regulation within the center of the mind). This creates the “warm, fuzzy” emotions often associated with drinking.
These short-term results of alcohol, even though risky, hide the long-term harm alcohol can cause to the brain.
Possible brain damage due to alcohol consumption
Damage to the hippocampus region (accountable for your memory creation) is heavily affected by drinking and “blackouts,” resulting in short-term memory loss and death of brain cells. Repeated blackouts, a clear indication of excessive drinking, can lead to permanent damage that inhibits the brain from capturing and storing new memories. For example, the patient might be able to clearly recall a past event but not remember a conversation just a few hours later.
Alcohol-related brain damage can also be present in infants exposed to alcohol in the womb. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy due to the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The alcohol moves through the umbilical cord to the fetus, where the undeveloped body cannot properly process the substance.
Alcohol addiction treatment options
If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, there are a number of treatment options available to you. One of the most important things you can do is to seek professional help. A qualified addiction specialist can help you understand the changes that have occurred in your brain and develop a plan to overcome them.
In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage withdrawal symptoms or reduce cravings. This is often combined with therapy, which can provide additional support in dealing with the underlying causes of addiction. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for alcohol addiction, but with the right treatment plan, it is possible to overcome this disease and regain control of your life.