We all know what drunkenness looks like: slurred speech, clumsiness, and even blackouts are apparent when someone is intoxicated. Alcoholics who have been at it for many years also have some obvious characteristics, such as liver problems and terrible memory. But what is that alcohol consumption doing to the brain? Here are some of the effects of alcohol on the human brain.
To understand the effects of alcohol on the brain, it is good to know how the brain works, in general. The brain runs the nervous system, which can be anything from breathing and moving to thinking or feeling pain. Any amount of alcohol has some effect on the brain, and therefore some impact on all of those functions. Even one drink can slow down your reaction time!
Most of the effects of alcohol on the brain, then, are the visible changes in motor skills and brain function you see when someone drinks:
Even such characteristics as poor decision-making while intoxicated (such as unplanned sex or driving under the influence) are directly related to the brain: judgment is impaired because the brain’s functions have been impaired.
Enough alcohol consumed in a single sitting can “shut down” the brain. To a lesser extent, that’s blackouts and lapses in memory. In a large enough quantity, you have alcohol poisoning or even death.
Any of the short-term effects of alcohol can accumulate and become long-term effects. Long-term effects do not necessarily come about because you consume alcohol for a long time (as in many years). They also have to do with frequency and quantity of consumption.
It is widely known that alcohol “kills brain cells.” Kill too many or too regularly, and you do not give the brain time to heal. That’s when you get long-term effects from alcohol. These adverse effects are most severe on developing brains (and the human brain develops until your mid-twenties), or for pregnant women because of the effect on the baby (fetal alcohol syndrome).
Over time, the damage to the brain gets more severe. Motor skills, memory, and mood functions can get very altered. The brain shrinks.
Certain factors do increase the likelihood of brain damage from alcohol consumption. Your physical health, for one. A healthy liver can process alcohol better, but over time alcohol damages the liver. How much you drink and how often you drink makes a big difference in the effects of alcohol on your brain. Your genetic background and family history also make a difference.
The younger you are when you first start drinking alcohol, the more likely you are to develop dependency and brain damage, as well. Unfortunately, young people who drink alcohol often do to excess, not realizing that they may be engaging in behavior that can lead to permanent brain damage.
If you stop drinking alcohol for several months, or up to a year, your brain may partially heal. Adverse effects like memory and attention problems, difficulty thinking or trouble with problem-solving skills start to improve.
At least, that is true if your body is healthy enough and you quit soon enough. Eventually, chronic alcoholism can lead to conditions such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome or Korsakoff psychosis, which involve brain damage and tremors, and possibly coma or death.
If you or a loved one abuse alcohol, contact us. We can help you get on the road to reversing the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain.