How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect the Brain?
September 5, 2019
Experts say that if you don’t drink alcohol, there’s no reason to start.
Alcohol is scientifically proven to have negative effects on the body and brain, especially in those who binge drink or who drink heavy amounts regularly. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol dependence or addiction, receiving professional treatment at an alcohol rehab center may help reduce the risk of alcohol-induced brain conditions.
Here’s a closer look at how alcohol abuse affects the brain, and how alcohol rehab can help.
What is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse is a behavior in which alcohol use leads to problems at home, work, and/or school. Alcohol use that results in dangerous situations or that leads to legal and social problems may also be defined as alcohol abuse.
People who suffer from alcohol abuse may drink heavily frequently, or engage in binge drinking on an occasional basis. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking for 5 or more days within a 30-day period. Binge drinking occurs when a male consumes at least 5 alcoholic drinks or a woman consumes at least 4 alcoholic drinks in succession. A person with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08 g/dL within 2 hours is known to be engaging in binge drinking.
Which Factors Influence How Alcohol Affects the Brain?
Alcohol affects each person’s brain differently depending on several factors. For instance, a person who drinks high amounts of alcohol daily may suffer more brain damage than someone who has only one drink per month. A person who exercises regularly and eats a healthy diet may be able to effectively counteract alcohol-related cognitive decline than someone who doesn’t.
Some factors that may influence the extent to which alcohol affects the brain include:
- The amount and frequency of alcohol use.
- The length of time a person has been drinking.
- The age at which a person started drinking.
- A person’s gender, education level, current age, genetic background, and family history of addiction.
- A person’s general health status.
10 Ways Alcohol Abuse Can Affect the Brain
Binge drinking, or drinking too much alcohol within a short period or on an empty stomach, can lead to blackouts and memory lapses. Blackouts occur on behalf of changes to the brain’s hippocampus region after a person consumes high amounts of alcohol. The hippocampus is responsible for creating new memories, which is why many people cannot remember anything despite being conscious after a night of heavy drinking.
Researchers have found that blackouts are much more common among social drinkers. A survey of 772 college students revealed that 40% had experienced at least one blackout during the previous year, and 9.4% experienced a blackout during the 2 weeks before taking the survey. The students reported that they had participated in dangerous activities they couldn’t remember while blacked out, including driving while intoxicated and having unsafe sex.
2. Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome
Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a neurological disorder characterized by symptoms of confusion, double vision, loss of muscle coordination, hallucinations, and exaggerated storytelling, among many others. Alcohol use disorder is the top cause of WKS due to the way heavy alcohol use depletes thiamine or vitamin B1. An estimated 80% of people diagnosed with alcohol use disorder are deficient in thiamine, which greatly increases their risk of WKS. When left untreated, WKS may lead to irreversible brain damage and death.
Alcohol is found to interact with an inhibitory neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in ways that lead to decreased brain activity. High amounts of alcohol can change the brain’s levels of GABA to result in decreased attention, drowsiness, slurred speech, slower reaction time, and overall sluggishness. All these effects can lead to deficits in memory, attention, and learning, as well as accidents and dangerous situations.
4. Lower Inhibitions
The effects of alcohol can often make people feel more sociable, aggressive, and emotional due to the way it affects neurotransmitters that control inhibitions—mainly GABA. Alcohol can impair a person’s ability to think rationally, make good decisions, and control impulses. There are many dangerous risks associated with lowered inhibitions, such as acting violent, having unsafe sex, being open to trying other drugs and engaging in criminal behavior.
5. Brain Shrinkage
Researchers have associated long-term heavy drinking with brain shrinkage and deficiencies in white brain matter that carry information between brain cells. Alcohol-induced brain shrinkage has been linked to problems with attention, memory formation, and memory retrieval. At present, researchers are working on determining whether brain shrinkage can be reversed through the stimulation and growth of new brain cells.
6. Cognitive Decline
Those who drink heavy and excessive amounts of alcohol are shown to experience faster cognitive decline than those who drink light to moderate amounts of alcohol. Cognitive decline may involve problems with thinking, memory, language, and judgment that are more significant than those that occur as part of the normal aging process. Suffering even a mild level of cognitive decline can increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
7. Mental Illness
In addition to acting on GABA receptors and neurotransmitters, alcohol can affect the brain’s levels of serotonin and dopamine—both of which play a role in mood and mental function. Imbalances in these neurotransmitters can increase the risk for mental illnesses such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia. In fact, co-occurring mental health disorders are present in approximately 50% of people who are diagnosed with substance use disorders.
People who drink high amounts of alcohol regularly can eventually develop a tolerance to it. Alcohol tolerance is defined as a state in which a person no longer responds to the amount they usually drink—requiring them to drink higher amounts of alcohol to feel the effects. Tolerance increases the risk for alcohol dependence and addiction.
Those who become tolerant to alcohol may eventually become dependent on it too. Alcohol dependence is defined as a state in which a person functions normally only when they drink alcohol. Dependence is characterized by the onset of alcohol withdrawal symptoms when abruptly discontinuing use. Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, tremors, sweating, and insomnia, among many more.
Addiction is defined as a complex brain disorder and mental illness characterized by compulsive drug seeking and drug use despite negative consequences. Long-term and/or heavy alcohol use can eventually lead to addiction and a wide range of long-term health problems. Alcohol addiction is also known as alcohol use disorder, which can be safely and effectively treated using alcohol detox and behavioral therapy at an alcohol rehab center. Alcohol detox treats physical dependence on alcohol, while behavioral therapy focuses on addiction by helping people change harmful behaviors and beliefs about alcohol use.
Alcohol Detox at Summer House Detox
Summer House Detox Center offers alcohol detox in Florida to help people experience a safe and comfortable recovery from alcohol dependence. Alcohol detox at Summer House takes place in a luxury setting where patients can withdraw from alcohol while enjoying our many quality amenities and services including yoga, acupuncture, and massage therapy. Patients who complete our alcohol detox program can be referred to an alcohol rehab center where they can receive therapy and counseling for addiction. Contact us today to learn more about our available alcohol detox programs.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction in Fort Lauderdale, give Summer House Detox Center a call at 800-719-1090 to schedule a FREE consultation. You can also visit us at 13550 Memorial Highway Miami, FL 33161. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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