The Effects of Alcohol Abuse on the Brain
We have all heard about the devastating effects of alcohol abuse on the brain, but what does it really do? And how seriously should we take the risks?
Legal but lethal:
You may think that alcohol is absolutely safe simply because it’s legal. But that’s just not the case. Even though, having a drink or two can make you feel good for a little while, the negative effects of alcohol persist long after the buzz is over. Some of the effects worsen over time up to the point where they become permanent.
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Alcohol messes with brain chemistry:
Our brain is one of the most complex things in the entire universe. Its remarkable function relies on numerous chemical processes and electrical signals. Alcohol is a depressant which means that it inhibits nervous activity. Alcohol alters the levels of neurotransmitters that are responsible for communicating information throughout the brain. That is why drinking causes difficulties with coordination, balance and judgment.
There are two ways neurotransmitters act in the brain, excitatory and inhibitory. Almost all of the brain functions depend on the delicate balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine play an important role in brain functions such as arousal, reward, reinforcement and motivation.
Whereas, neurotransmitters such as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) are responsible for reducing neural activity. Alcohol binds itself to GABA receptors to cause slurred speech and sluggish movement. Also it increases dopamine levels that make you feel good when you have the first drink. However, with time the brain becomes insensitive to these effects and the person starts to drink more heavily.
While the short term, effects of alcohol are quite hilarious, long term exposure to alcohol forces the brain to compensate by adapting to these chemical variations. In order to restore equilibrium, the brain changes the function of certain neurotransmitters so that it is able to operate normally when the person is drunk. These chemical changes lead to alcohol dependence in the long run.
Alcohol adds to stress:
You might find yourself heading towards the local bar when you’re stressed out. Having a drink or two can help you relax and loosen up a bit. While this may hold true for some people under certain circumstances, studies show that heavy alcohol consumption over long periods can actually increase stress hormone levels in the body.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is crucial for survival and allows the body to cope with high stress periods. Cortisol is primarily responsible for the fight or flight response and provides a burst of energy to deal with a dangerous encounters.
The secretion of this hormone results in higher blood pressure and increased heart rate. In order to save energy for stress response, cortisol temporarily suspends metabolic functions such as reproduction, growth, immunity and digestion.
Even though, this hormone serves to aid humans in stressful situations, chronic release of cortisol can cause severe negative impacts on your health. Moreover, these effects are not just limited to long term stress but can also lead to hypertension, growth problems, ulcers, accelerated aging, weight gain, digestive issues, depression, fatigue and many more illnesses.
There are certain factors that make people more susceptible to alcohol consumption. Children that go through physical, emotional or sexual abuse are more prone to alcohol consumption as adults. Also people that have a history of alcoholism in their families are more inclined to use alcohol as a way of dealing with stress.
It is important to remember that stress is a part of life and any sort of substance abuse can have devastating consequences in the long run. So next time you’re stressed about a project deadline or a recent breakup be sure to avoid alcohol completely, and opt for herbal teas or yoga instead.
More than just forgetfulness:
It is pretty common to wake up not knowing what happened after a hard boozing session the previous night. While blackouts and memory lapse are common side effects of heavy drinking, alcohol consumption has been linked to more serious conditions like Korsakoff’s syndrome and alcoholic dementia.
Dementia is not a specific disease but rather a range of conditions that result is the gradual and long lasting decrease in cognitive functions, specifically the ability to think and remember. It also affects the person’s capacity to perform daily activities and people with dementia require the assistance of a caregiver in the later stages. The most common types of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and lewd body dementia.
People who constantly drink over the safe limits are more susceptible to brain disorders due to the lack of a nutritious diet and the damage caused to the brain, liver and other organs. Heavy alcohol consumption is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Since a specific diagnostic criteria for alcoholic dementia has not been developed, it is extremely difficult to study the relationship between alcoholic dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
However, the symptoms of both disorders are quite similar and include memory loss, confusion, false memories and sex which may end up in early relationships and leads to stress or other social problems for which both parties suffer.
The damaging effects of alcohol abuse are not just limited to the ones mentioned above. Heavy drinking can seriously jeopardize personal relationships and professional careers. There are numerous ways to deal with stress and other problems in life. That’s why, it is extremely important to drink within the alcohol safety guidelines to keep yourself and others around you safe.
This is a guest post – ABOUT Erica Silva
Erica Silva is a blogger by choice. She loves to discover the world around her. She likes to share her discoveries, experiences and express herself through her blogs.
Find her on Twitter:@ericadsilva1
Curtis is a nurse educator who enjoy’s helping people understand more about alcohol safety and alcohol awareness.