how alcohol affects the brain and behavior

How Alcohol Affects The Brain and Behavior?

Alcohol is a depressant intoxicant drank by millions of people across the world. Alcohol affects your brain and influences your behavior. This post will enlighten you on how alcohol affects the brain and behavior, and addiction to alcohol plus treatment.

How Alcohol Affects the Brain and Behavior

In a broad perspective, the central nervous system is the first victim of alcohol. Impulses sent between the brain and nerves get distorted or slowed down. This is why a drunken person has slowed response to stimuli.

Your brain is tasked with controlling all systems in your body. The brain achieves this using a series of electrical, physical and chemical signals that travel from one cell to another. Alcohol affects the chemical communication signals between cells called Neurotransmitters.

Alcohol affects your behavior by messing up with the working of your nervous system. It interacts with receptors and suppresses nerve activities while inhibiting others. There are two ways that alcohol affects your behavior;

  • Alcohol enhances the working and effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA. It makes you sluggish; your brain taking more time to do things.
  • Weakening excitatory neurotransmitters within the nervous system such as glutamine to make you even more sluggish.

As you take in more alcohol, your thought processes get increasingly impaired. This eventually affects the quality of decisions you make. Your behavior changes and you may not notice it.

Another broad effect of alcohol on your brain is a contraction of brain cells. With frequent imbibing on alcoholic drinks, the alcohol kills brain cells. Studies have shown that brain cells do not regenerate. This is called alcohol related brain injury which leads you to develop problems with your memory and cognition. Diagnosis of alcohol related brain injury is done in a medical facility by a doctor.

How Alcohol Affects Different Brain Areas

i). Cerebral cortex: The cerebral cortex is charged with the processing of information from your senses and is the general boss over thought processing and lower order brain areas. Alcohol affects this part of the brain and blunts your senses. It also increases your threshold for pain while affecting thought processes in the cerebral cortex. The results of alcohol affecting the cerebral cortex are poor judgment and depressed inhibition which makes you more talkative and confident.

ii). Limbic System: The limbic system consists of the septal area of the brain and the hippocampus. It controls emotions and memory. The effect of alcohol on the limbic system is heightened state of emotions and memory lapses or loss.

iii). Cerebellum: The cerebellum in your brain is in charge of coordinating fine movements. It works in conjunction with the cerebral cortex to regulate balance and muscular movements. Alcohol affects the cerebellum and makes movements uncoordinated, while it gets increasingly difficult to keep your balance.

iv). Hypothalamus and Pituitary Gland: Alcohol affects the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. It depresses hypothalamic nerve centers to increase your sexual desire while decreasing your sexual performance. In the pituitary gland, it inhibits secretion of a hormone that influences the kidney to reabsorb water. The effect is less re-absorption of water in the kidneys, leading to large amounts of urine being produced.

v). Medulla: The medulla is also called the brain stem. It controls and influences body functions such as temperature, heart rate and breathing. When alcohol affects your medulla, you feel sleepy. Large amounts of alcohol affecting your medulla will render you unconscious. This can turn fatal if unaddressed.

How to Reduce Alcohol Consumption

It is possible to reduce alcohol consumption. Put in place some easy-to-follow steps and plans that you can practice anywhere you area. Reducing alcohol consumption is beneficial to you mentally, socially, physically and financially. Cutting down on alcohol consumption and adopting moderate drinking gives you better health.

Some types of alcohol damage to your brain and organs are reversible. Quitting drinking makes alcohol brain damage reversible. It may take some time after quitting before all alcohol brain damage is reversed.

To reduce your intake of alcohol, keep track of how often you drink, and how much alcohol you drink per sitting. Look out for triggers to drinking and devise ways to avoid exposure to such triggers.

  • Pacing your drinks is an excellent idea. Have a unit period of time during which you only take one alcoholic drink and some other non-alcoholic drink. Soda, water and juices are great pacer-drinks. Water as a pacer-drink has the additional benefit of keeping you hydrated.
  • Know when to say ‘No’ to a drink. Be ready and willing to decline alcoholic drinks. It does not matter whether you are buying the drink yourself or if it is a friend offering to buy you one. Firmness is required in your ‘No’ statement.
  • Include food in your drinking session to slow down the absorption of alcohol. This keeps you sober for longer and reduces the peak of drunkenness that you will reach.

Medication in Treatment of Alcoholism

Medication to help you quit abusive use of alcohol is available. A qualified medical care professional such as a doctor will guide you on the use of medicines in the treatment of alcoholism. Such medicines are taken together with psychosocial treatment. Existing medical products include Naltrexone, Topamax, Campral and Antabuse. Each of these medicines works in its unique way.

Psychosocial treatments that should accompany medication to reduce alcohol consumption are cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy and facilitation programs. These treatments can be offered at an outpatient center.

Nearly all known civilizations and societies have an indigenous alcoholic drink. Effects of alcohol on internal organs such as the liver and kidneys are widely known, but how alcohol affects the brain and behavior is less known. Today, alcohol is taken by a vast majority of adults and youth. Social drinking is common and an acceptable pastime, but you should beware that it does not lead you to addiction.

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sameer Kumar (MBBS, MS, FMAS, DMAS)Obstetrician & Gynecologist