HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS THE BRAIN AND BEHAVIOUR
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How Alcohol Affects the Brain and Behavior
Alcohol is a depressant that affects your vision, coordination, reaction time, multitasking ability, judgment, and decision-making. Alcohol affects your ability to identify dangerous situations and make good decisions when you know danger is ahead, and it slows your reaction time even if you do make a good decision.
Short Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
In low doses
In occasional drinkers, alcohol can produce one or more short-term effects after one or more drinks. Memory impairment can begin after a few drinks, and it can become increasingly worse as the consumption increases. A high volume of alcohol consumption, especially on an empty stomach, can result in a blackout. Occasional drinkers will usually recover from a blackout without any lasting mental problems. However, there are numerous dangerous associated with acute alcohol intoxication, such as engaging in reckless activities like unprotected sex, vandalism, and driving. Further, an alcohol-involved incident, such as a car accident, can cause ongoing problems as court dates will need to be attended, fines must be paid, and educational or treatment requirements will have to be met.
In medium doses
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discusses, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans considers a moderate drinker to be a person who consumes one drink (applies to women) or two drinks (applies to men) per day. Despite extensive news coverage of medical reports that moderate drinking has positive health benefits, the guidelines advise that this is not a reason to start drinking. Moderate alcohol consumption has negative associations, such as increasing the risk of breast cancer and causing violence, falls, drownings, and car accidents. Moderate drinking does not insulate a person from the cognitive impairment associated with drinking and the dangerous consequences that can result.
In high doses
Unlike an occasional or moderate drinker, a person who drinks heavily over an extended period of time may develop deficits in brain functioning that continue even if sobriety is attained. In other words, cognitive problems no longer arise from drinking alcohol but from brain damage that prior drinking caused. In short, long-term alcohol abuse can negatively impact the brain’s “hard wiring”such that even when drinking ends, the cognitive problems persist.
Long Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, most heavy long-term alcohol users will experience a mild to moderate impairment of intellectual functioning as well as diminished brain size. The most common impairments relate to the ability to think abstractly as well as the ability to perceive and remember the location of objects in two- and three-dimensional space (visuospatial abilities).
In addition, there are numerous brain disorders associated with chronic alcohol abuse. For example, research supports that up to 80 percent of chronic alcohol users have a thiamine deficiency, and some in this group will progress to a serious brain disorder known as Wernicke”Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). Symptoms of WKS include confusion, paralysis of eye nerves, impaired muscle coordination, and persistent problems with memory and learning ability.
Alcohol Brain Damage Reversible
There is no doubt that alcohol abuse causes brain damage and several other health problems, including cancer and liver disease. Some of the brain injury associated with alcohol abuse can be seen on a brain scan (MRI) as physical changes in brain structure and loss of brain tissue in wide-spread regions throughout the brain.
One of the most prominent changes associated with alcohol consumption involves the massive bundles of nerve fibers that interconnect neurons in different regions of the brain into functional circuits. These fibers are coated with a white-colored electrical insulation, called myelin, which is essential for transmission of electrical signals. These tracts of white matter streaking through the brain are the brain’s information highways, and damage to them will impair any cognitive function that depends on information transmission through the communication cables. Loss of memory, slowed thinking, impaired problem solving and decision making are especially vulnerable to damage caused by alcohol consumption, because it disrupts white matter connections to the cerebral cortex and deep brain structures necessary for these mental functions.
Remarkably, a large body of new research has revealed that aerobic exercise not only builds muscle, it builds brain tissue. Aerobic exercise stimulates the birth of new neurons in specific parts of the brain where neurons can still divide in adults, including the hippocampus, which is involved in learning. Exercise protects against cognitive decline in aging and neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, and it strengthens the integrity of white matter tracts to the extent that the beneficial changes can be seen on an MRI.
These recent discoveries motivated researchers Hollis Karoly and colleagues at the University of Colorado to ask whether aerobic exercise could prevent the damaging effects of heavy alcohol consumption on white matter in the human brain. Identifying any new treatment that could reverse brain damage caused by alcohol consumption would have profound health benefits for tens of thousands of individuals who consume alcohol. According to this new study, there is an effective treatment that requires no medication and has no negative side effects — aerobic exercise.
Alcohol Brain Damage Symptoms
- Altered emotions
- Breathing difficulties
- Increased urine production
- Lower core body temperature
- Lowered inhibitions
- More blood flow to skin surface
- Passing out
- Poor concentration
- Poor vision
- Possible death
- Reduced coordination
- Reduced tension
- Sensations and perceptions that are less clear
- Sleepiness and disruption of sleeping patterns
- Slow reaction time
- Slow reflexes
- Slower brain activity
- Slurred speech
- Uncontrolled defecation
- Uncontrolled urination
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