People who drink alcohol know what we are talking about when we say that it can impact your concentration and mess with your memory and brain cells. When you drink even a few drinks, you may have trouble remembering new information, like the name of someone you have just met, or social plans, like who is responsible for driving you home. Sometimes, drinking leads to a blackout, where you lose hours of your memory and cannot recall what events have taken place during your drinking episode.
Alcohol abuse doesn’t just impact parts of the brain while you are drinking. Heavy drinking and long-term use of alcohol on your brain can be particularly damaging and, if not treated properly, can impact you for the rest of your life.
Alcohol and Dopamine
Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is like your brain’s reward. The short-term effects of alcohol trigger a very high response to dopamine levels, making it more pleasurable in the long run. Your body will begin craving that same intense feeling of pleasure, which can eventually lead to a dependency on alcohol.
When you continue to drink, your brain chemistry changes and becomes accustomed to the high levels of dopamine alcohol provides, so it begins to produce less of the hormone on its own. As your body’s own production of these chemical messengers decreases, it craves more from the outside source, building up a tolerance to the amount you are used to drinking. In the end, you will begin to need more and more alcohol to reach the same levels of dopamine. When you try to stop drinking, you can experience intense depression episodes and changes in mood and behavior that make you want to reach for a glass of wine.
How the Brain Is Impacted
Your brain is like the center of your own universe. It controls everything, from mobility to emotions and the functioning of your organs. When you consume alcohol, you end up impacting several parts, making it undeniable that alcohol affects your brain’s activity.
Your cerebral cortex is the epicenter of many high-level functions, such as understanding consciousness, memory, emotions, reasoning, and language. Here your brain processes information and makes decisions. Alcohol depresses your cerebral cortex so that it becomes harder to think clearly or make thoughtful decisions and judgment, potentially causing impulsivity. It can inhibit your ability to function independently because you’re no longer very reliable when taking care of yourself.
Your cerebellum controls movement and coordination, which can become impaired by alcohol, causing you to lose your balance more frequently and making it harder to control your movements. This is why you might notice a person under the influence of alcohol staggering around or moving erratically.
Hypothalamus and the pituitary
The hypothalamus and pituitary work together to help link the endocrine system and nervous system, which help to maintain the internal balance of a person’s body. Alcohol will cause a rift in this balance and will also cause a decline in libido, making sexual encounters more difficult as your body cannot match up with how you might be feeling at the moment.
Your hippocampus controls your memory, which we know is impacted by alcohol use. Alcohol slows down how the nerves communicate with each other in the hippocampus, causing blackouts and moments of memory loss. Long-term alcohol use can damage nerve cells in the hippocampus, creating problems in your overall health for years down the line.
The medulla is important because it controls automatic functions like breathing and body temperature. Alcohol will depress these functions, which can induce sleepiness, slow your breathing down while you are unconscious or asleep, lower your body temperature, and put you into a coma.
Central nervous system
Alcohol will slow your body’s ability to send messages to the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, which will slow speech and movement down. You might also experience a slower reaction time to processing information, making thinking harder when under the influence.
Short- and Long-Term Effects on the Brain
When you use alcohol, it will have a short-term effect on your brain, but you risk damaging your brain long-term when you continue to use alcohol over an extended period.
Some short-term effects of drinking alcohol are:
- Impaired motor skills
- Slurred speech
- Nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory suppression
- Inability to stay conscious
Long-term use of alcohol can severely lessen your ability to pay attention and execute tasks, and when not treated properly, it can take over your life. Alcohol is a dangerous substance that can cause severe brain damage to all parts of your brain when consumption goes unregulated. Some long-term effects of alcohol are:
- Damage to neurotransmitters and your brain’s reward center
- Cognitive impairment (speech, memory, learning)
- Increased risk for dementia and wernicke-korsakoff syndrome (wet brain)
- Withdrawal symptoms, like hallucinations or seizures
- Loss of gray matter leading to brain shrinkage
- Liver and heart damage
- Thiamine deficiency
By asking for help, you can avoid some of these long-term effects! It’s not too late to change the trajectory of your life around.
Overdosing on Alcohol
When you consume a copious amount of alcohol in a binge-drinking episode, you are risking alcohol poisoning that results in an overdose. An overdose can happen if you have been drinking too much during a short window of time. When your body cannot handle the amount of alcohol it has consumed, it causes a toxic build-up which has a highly depressing effect on the body. The toxic build-up can lead to a dangerously low body temperature, slowed breathing, and an irregular heart rate.
Some signs that you or a loved one might be overdosing on alcohol include:
- Blue or pale skin discoloration
- Irregular breathing or slowed breathing
If you notice these symptoms occur, contact an emergency medical professional as immediate help will be needed.
Treating Alcohol Addiction at Soba Recovery
Alcohol addiction is no joke. Though legal, it can cause extreme disruption in your personal life. If you are struggling with alcohol use disorder, Soba Recovery Centers are here to help. Finding personal and adaptive treatment can be difficult, but we get that everyone is different and has their own needs. Whether inpatient or outpatient, you can choose what service you’d like to participate in, but you can also ask for a consultation with one of our representatives to help figure out where you will fit in best.
Alcohol should not be in control of your life. Take your life back through therapy and with the support of a sober community. Quitting is challenging, and relapsing is almost always a possibility. With the help of our medically trained staff, you will have all the tools necessary to recover and feel good about entering back into the world. You can overcome your addiction and, in the process, protect your brain from the harmful effects of alcohol!