The Effects of Alcohol Abuse On Your Brain

Monday, September 16th, 2013

The effects of alcohol abuse on the brain are apparent each time someone becomes intoxicated. For example, slurred speech, unsteady gait, and delayed reaction times are indications that the brain is affected by alcohol use. Alcohol abuse and long-term exposure to alcohol can create even more problems for the brain.

Alcohol Use and the Brain

Alcohol affects the brain by changing levels of neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers. Different neurotransmitters are affected, but the result is depression of the central nervous system and decreased cognitive functioning. However, as with most recreational drugs, alcohol use also increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes you feel good. This fools your brain into drinking more to make you feel even better, but it is actually having a depressant effect as well. Dopamine’s effects of alcohol abuse on the brain are also what can lead some people to addiction.

Not only does alcohol trick the brain into thinking you feel good while actually having depressant effects, it also affects different areas of the brain in different ways. This is what leads to a variety of symptoms as a result of intoxication. Alcohol affects the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the medulla, leading to effects such as:

  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Clumsiness
  • Increased sexual arousal
  • Decreased sexual performance
  • Sleepiness

Effects of Alcohol Abuse on the Brain

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse on the brain can lead to brain damage and actual shrinking of the brain. Alcohol damages and destroys brain cells and other tissues in the brain, including the fibers that carry information between cells in the brain. As the brain shrinks, dementia-related symptoms may occur, such as those that are more often associated with aging. Gaps begin to develop in the brain tissue, making it harder for the brain to communicate with other parts of the body. Blackouts may occur that last for hours, days, or even weeks.

Cognitive functioning is reduced, making it harder for those affected to make appropriate decisions, perform daily tasks, and remember important information. Alcohol abuse can also create deficiencies in certain vitamins, leading to the development of brain disorders. Effects of alcohol abuse on the brain may become permanent, leading to lack of coordination, difficulty learning, memory problems, mental confusion, and the inability to retain information.

Getting Help Can Improve Outcomes

It is important for those who abuse alcohol to get help to reduce their risk of permanent brain damage from the effects of alcohol abuse. Depending on the amount and length of time using alcohol, many people can show improvement in brain symptoms as early as a year after quitting. There is no such thing as ‘too late’ when it comes to seeking treatment for alcohol abuse. The earlier you get help, the better your chances of reversing or stopping the effects of alcohol abuse on your brain and your life.

If you feel like you might need help with addiction, talk to your doctor or an addiction specialist about what options might be best for you.