Researchers at Charleston drug rehab center say that alcohol consumed at low levels can have “feel good” effects, which is why most people turn to it after a bad day at work or while experiencing stress. But research is also clear about the opposite: When alcohol is consumed at more than moderate levels, it damages the brain– in the short-term, long-term, and permanently.
If you have ever wondered what happens to your brain in different stages of alcoholism, then keep reading:
Early Stage and Short Term Changes
1. Behavioral Changes
Drinking alcohol has an effect on our neurotransmitters. It messes with the levels of these neurotransmitters which in turn affects our physical activity, emotion, and behaviors.
Alcohol slows down a neurotransmitter called GABA (Gamma aminobutyric acid). The slurred speech, sluggish movement, and slower reactions during intoxication are all controlled by this neurotransmitter.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, alcohol speeds up a neurotransmitter called glutamate. This neurotransmitter is responsible for all the feel-good, warm and fuzzy feelings you get while drinking. Consumption increases the levels of dopamine in the brain’s reward center; this is one of the prime reasons people get addicted more easily when they are stressed or dealing with something bad in their life.
We drink more and more to get that feeling, and since our brain is designed to preserve our body and mind, it wants us to do it more.
2. Cloudy Judgement
Apart from triggering feelings on opposite ends of the spectrum, alcohol also clouds judgement which leads to people engaging in risky behaviors such as dancing on tables in bars or jumping off a moving car, etc. Things get more dangerous if a person has an underlying mental condition like depression or anxiety; alcoholism can exacerbate these conditions and increase mood swings as well.
Binge drinkers are not only slow or bad at processing new information, but also at balancing. This is because their cerebellum (regulates balance) and cerebral cortex (responsible for taking in and processing information) are affected. When these areas are affected, a person feels dizzy, with blurred vision and impaired sensory perception of new information.
3. No New Memories
Waking up and not remembering what happened the previous night? Sound familiar? The brain’s hippocampus is responsible for creating memories. While you are intoxicated, alcohol’s effect on this area contributes to blackouts and short term memory lapses.
In extreme cases, drinking too much too fast causes loss of consciousness, putting the user’s safety at risk. Studies also show that high doses of alcohol can cause cell death. According to Harvard Health, a few episodes of heavy drinking shrinks areas of the brain involved in learning new information, cognition, and information processing.
Mature Stage And Long Term Effects
1. Shrinks Brain Volume
After a wild night of heavy drinking, if you wake up the next morning with no signs of injury, heavy risk, or embarrassment you may think you are in the clear. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There are worse things than a hangover waiting for you.
A study in the Archives of Neurology proved that heavy drinking over longer periods of time actually shrinks your brain volume. The study found that brain matter reduction (a sign of aging) in people who had more than 14 drinks per week over a 20 year time frame had 1.6%smaller brain size than non-drinkers. These figures are alarming if you are in your late 20’s or early 30’s.
2. Cognitive Decline (Memory Loss)
Memory loss is a common sign of old age. Heavy drinking affects your ability to learn and process information and also speeds up your memory loss at an earlier age. According to the Neurology journal, men who drink up to 2.5 drinks a day experience memory decline 6 years earlier than their counterpart non-drinkers.
3. Reward System No Longer Works
Our subconscious brain is designed to not only preserve our body but also to keep us away from negative feelings. It’s a very common observation among drinkers who might no longer feel the effects of alcohol but still consume heavy amounts of it.
Heavy drinking causes our brain’s reward system to lose its normal functioning, which throws the drinker into a paradox. Their normal consumption no longer makes them feel good and to feel good they drink more and more. The cycle continues.
While alcohol is a social lubricant in our society and can make people courageous who are otherwise very shy and passive, it’s certainly not worth the trade when it comes to its long-term and short-term effects. There are many ways to quit alcohol, including exercise, meditation, medicated treatment, and more. We wish you the best of luck in experiencing life to the fullest rather than through a haze.
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