Drinking alcohol affects every organ system in your body. Alcoholic beverages contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol), which is a depressant drug that slows down your central nervous system. This means that alcohol makes you less alert, slower to react, and less likely to remember things. In addition, alcohol interferes with the way your brain processes information.
The effects of drinking alcoholic beverages depend on how much you consume and how often you drink.
The amount of alcohol that is too much varies from person to person, and what may be relaxing to some may cause a headache to others. On average, however, just 1-2 glasses of beer, wine, or champagne will exhaust the daily limit of alcohol that can be considered harmless to health.
Even small amounts of alcohol, like 1-2 beers, can disrupt sensory function, break brain barriers, and make concentrating difficult. A medium amount of alcohol (3-4 beers) can weaken muscle strength, impair judgment and affect self-criticism. Drinking more than 8 beers can affect your motor function, cause nausea and dizziness, and alter your behavior. Depending on the person, it can lead to intoxication or even death.
Alcohol’s effects on the body depend on its quantity, quality, and concentration. It can be detected in changes in the nervous system, movements, and behavior. Our brain is affected in three phases.
Short-term effects of alcohol
People differ in how much alcohol they need to consume to become light drunk or even unconscious drunk. Other factors include an individual’s body weight, age, gender, health condition, metabolism rate, etc.
The first thing alcohol does to everyone is disrupt their nerve cells. Our brains contain around 90 billion of these cells, which use neurotransmitters as chemical messengers to communicate with each other. Their proper functioning is essential for brain functions such as memory recall, thinking, and learning. This network is found in three areas of the brain: the basal ganglia, the extended amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex. Alcohol disrupts this network.
Alcohol consumption can cause an increase in the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Dopamine release is believed to be one of the main reasons people drink alcohol. However, too much dopamine can lead to feelings of anxiety and agitation.
A neurotransmitter called serotonin is also affected by alcohol consumption. This chemical is responsible for regulating mood, sleep, and appetite. Alcohol temporarily boosts serotonin levels, making you feel happier, but over time, excess alcohol can lower serotonin levels and cause or worsen depression.
A neurotransmitter called GABA is one of the most important neurotransmitters involved in regulating anxiety levels. Alcohol consumption can cause an increase in GABA levels, leading to feelings of relaxation and sedation.
There is no shortage of potential risks when it comes to the short-term effects of alcohol. From impaired judgment and coordination to slurred speech and vomiting, alcohol can cause various unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects.
Long-term effects of alcohol
1. Memory Loss
There’s a link between heavy drinking and Alzheimer’s disease later in life. This is because alcohol interferes with normal brain functioning. Regular heavy drinking causes brain structure changes, leading to impaired cognitive abilities such as memory, attention, and concentration.
2. Attention Deficit Disorder
Regular heavy drinkers are ten times as likely to develop ADHD as non-drinkers. Researchers believe that heavy drinkers are more likely to develop attention deficit disorder because alcohol damages the brain’s ability to regulate neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are responsible for carrying messages between nerve cells in the brain. When they are not properly regulated, it can lead to attention deficit disorder.
3. Learning Disability
Heavy drinking is also associated with an increased risk of developing dyslexia. Dyslexia is a disorder characterized by difficulty reading and writing. It is caused by abnormalities in the development of the brain. Heavy drinking impairs the growth of nerve cells in the brain, resulting in poor language processing and reading comprehension.
4. Brain Damage
Heavy drinking leads to structural changes in the brain. These changes include a part of the brain involved in memory formation. These changes lead to reduced brain volume and atrophy of neurons in the frontal cortex, which controls executive functions such as judgment, reasoning, problem-solving, and impulse control.
Depression affects your feelings, thoughts, and ability to function on a daily basis. While anyone can develop depression, alcoholics are at greater risk due to the long-term effects of drinking. Alcoholism not only alters your brain chemistry but also disrupts your social life and makes it difficult to maintain healthy relationships.
Drinking heavily over a long time changes how your brain produces and uses certain chemicals. This can lead to an imbalance in neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood and emotions. The most common neurotransmitter affected by alcoholism is serotonin. A lack of serotonin is associated with sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety.
6. Cardiovascular Diseases & Stroke
Drinking too much can damage the heart muscle and increase the risk of hypertension, heart failure, and stroke. Alcohol is also a major contributor to atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This can lead to chest pain, heart attack, and stroke.
Drinking too much alcohol can also cause irregular heartbeat and an increased risk of developing cardiomyopathy, which is a chronic condition that weakens the heart muscle. People who drink heavily are also more likely to develop arrhythmias, which are abnormal heart rhythms that can be life-threatening.
The cause of strokes is a blockage in the blood supply to the brain. Strokes are most commonly caused by clogged arteries resulting from atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque inside the arteries. Other causes include heart attack and high blood pressure.
7. Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Most people who drink alcohol regularly will experience some form of withdrawal when they suddenly stop. In most cases, alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin within 8 hours after the last drink and can range from mild to life-threatening.
Most commonly, alcohol withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, sweating, shaking, and nausea. Other common symptoms include insomnia, depression, irritability, and fatigue. Patients may experience hallucinations, delusions, and seizures in more severe cases.
To manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms safely, medical detox is the best option. Withdrawal from alcohol can be dangerous, so it’s important to seek professional help if you’re trying to quit drinking.
8. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) is a degenerative brain disorder caused by a lack of thiamine (vitamin B1). It typically affects people who abuse alcohol or have an eating disorder, although it can also occur in people who don’t consume enough thiamine-rich foods. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, and impaired coordination.
To sum up
Clearly, alcohol can have a significant effect on your brain. It can affect your feelings, behavior, and ability to function at your best. Heavy drinking can even increase your risk of developing dementia and strokes, so it is important to consult with a mental health professional if you drink excessively.