- Short-Term Effects On The Brain
- Frontal Lobes
- Cerebral Cortex
- Long-Term Effects On The Brain
- Hippocampus Damage
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Alcohol affects nearly every organ in the body, including the brain. In moderate amounts, it may cause lowered inhibitions and increased confidence. However, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to blackouts (memory loss) and overdose.
Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that slows brain activity and interacts with several neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and glutamate.
After drinking alcohol, you may experience euphoria, short-term memory loss, decreased reaction time, and lowered inhibitions.
Short-term effects of alcohol intoxication also include:
- increased talkativeness
- difficulty standing/walking
- mood changes
However, heavy drinking can also result in severe impairment, including blackouts and alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning is a potentially fatal condition that can cause shallow breathing, slowed heart rate, and low body temperature. Alcohol poisoning, or overdose, requires immediate medical attention because of the risk of death and permanent brain damage.
The frontal lobes are responsible for cognition, memory, and judgment. When this part of the brain is impaired, you may find it difficult to control emotions and make healthy decisions. This can lead to impulsive and high-risk behaviors.
The cerebral cortex is an area of the brain responsible for attention, memory, and cognition. Although you may feel more confidence when you drink, you may experience poor judgment and impaired thinking.
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain
Excessive alcohol use over a long period of time carries an increased risk of potentially permanent brain damage. The long-term effects of alcohol abuse can interfere with overall functioning and mental health.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, which can be severely impaired after heavy alcohol use. Even moderate amounts of alcohol have been associated with brain shrinkage in the hippocampus. The amount of alcohol consumed is related to the amount of damage to the hippocampus.
Long-term alcohol abuse can interfere with appetite and deplete the body of necessary vitamins. A thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency can interfere with functioning of the cerebellum, an area of the brain associated with movement and memory.
A severe thiamine deficiency can cause a serious condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Wernicke-Korsakoff occurs in two stages: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a short-term condition that causes confusion, paralysis of the eyes, and impaired muscle coordination. Not everyone who develops this brain condition will experience all three symptoms, which has caused it to sometimes go undiagnosed.
Most people with Wernicke’s encephalopathy also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, which is a chronic and severe condition that causes severe memory impairment and coordination problems. They may have trouble making new memories and recalling recent events.
Alcohol Dependence & Withdrawal
Substance abuse can change how the brain functions, especially during adolescence when the brain is still developing. Binge drinking or heavy drinking over several months or years can lead to severe changes in the brain and a chemical dependency.
When your brain is dependent, it needs alcohol to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Without professional treatment, alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening because it can cause seizures and hallucinations.
Common symptoms of withdrawal also include:
- decreased appetite
- increased heart rate
- difficulty sleeping
Long-term alcohol use can lead to the development of an alcohol use disorder, also known as alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction causes cravings and an inability to stop drinking without professional help.
Abstinence from alcohol may help improve some of the damaging effects of alcohol, including the regeneration of healthy neurons (brain cells). If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, professional treatment can help you get started.
At Northeast Addictions Treatment Center, we offer a wide range of evidence-based treatment options that can help you maintain long-term recovery from alcohol addiction. To learn more about our addiction treatment programs, please contact us today.
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.