How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain and Central Nervous System?

The alcohol and brain interaction is important for all consumers of alcohol to understand. Learn more in this article.

What Can Alcohol Do to Your Health?

Not only are there several effects that alcohol has on the brain, but alcohol can also impact the entire body. The alcohol and brain relationship affects several organs in the body, including the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and the immune system. In addition, the consumption of alcohol may increase the likelihood of developing certain types of cancers, including liver cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, and others.

That said, alcohol can directly impact the body’s central nervous system and consumers of alcohol need to understand the impacts that heavy alcohol consumption can have on their overall health, both short and long term.1

Alcohol and Brain

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Alcohol Brain vs. Normal Brain

Alcohol and the brain have a complicated relationship. Generally, alcohol interferes with the brain’s ability to communicate, and it directly influences an individual’s ability to balance, remember, speak, and make sound judgments.

Meanwhile, the brain unimpaired from alcohol allows the individual to make good judgments regarding their life, work, relationships, using too much alcohol can alter the way the brain works, looks, and functions. Alcohol can also have negative impacts on the developing brain. When consumed during childhood and adolescence, there may be irreversible changes to brain structure and function during development.2

How Long Does it Take Alcohol to Reach the Brain?

It does not take long for alcohol to reach the brain once someone has ingested it. In fact, alcohol and the brain have a rather rapid relationship. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it takes only ten minutes for alcohol to impact the brain system. However, some factors could impact how quickly alcohol impacts the brain and body. These include:

  • How much alcohol is consumed
  • How often an individual drinks
  • Age
  • Health status
  • Family history3

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

When an individual drinks alcohol heavily, the relationship between alcohol and brain can produce negative consequences. Typically, a heavy drinker is defined by women who drink more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks a week, or men who drink more than four drinks on any given day or more than fourteen drinks in a week. This is also known as binge drinking and can be correlated with serious health risks.4

What Part of the Brain is Affected by Alcohol?

The effects of alcohol on the brain are numerous and can impact different people in varying ways. When an individual consumes alcohol, they may experience impacts in the following areas.

  • Cerebral Cortex: Alcohol slows down the cerebral cortex and makes it difficult for a person to make good decisions.
  • Cerebellum: The cerebellum is responsible for coordination, thoughts, and awareness. Drinking too much alcohol can make it difficult to balance and move with coordination.
  • Hypothalamus and Pituitary Gland: Alcohol impacts the hypothalamus and pituitary gland by impacting blood pressure, hunger, thirst, the need to urinate, body temperature, and heart rate.
  • Medulla: The medulla is responsible for the body’s automatic reactions such as heart rate and body temperature. Alcohol can inhibit these important functions.
  • Hippocampus: The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory. Too much alcohol can cause an individual to lose track of time and occurrences.
  • Central Nervous System: Alcohol slows down the central nervous system which makes it difficult for people to think, speak, and move at a normal rate after consuming too much.5

Stages of Alcohol Intoxication

There are several distinct stages that characterize the consumption of alcohol and the brain. When an individual consumes alcohol, the brain, and alcohol intermix which can have negative impacts. The relationship between alcohol and brain functioning can be found in the stages of alcohol intoxication listed below.

Subliminal Intoxication

In this stage, an individual is still considered “sober” and will have no visible signs of intoxication.

Euphoria

Euphoria is characterized by increased chattiness and confidence, delayed reaction time, and decreased inhibitions.

Excitement

The excitement stage is characterized by emotional instability and significant loss of coordination. An individual may also experience drowsiness, vision problems, memory loss, and loss of judgment.

Confusion

Confusion is characterized by emotional outbursts and major loss of coordination. This is where an individual may stagger while walking and may not be able to track what is going on. Blacking out may also occur at this stage.

Stupor

A stupor occurs when the individual is no longer able to respond to what is happening around them.

Coma

This is the more dangerous stage in which an individual may experience difficulty in breathing and blood circulation. This is typically at 0.35 to .45 alcohol by blood volume and needs emergency medical attention.

Death

If an individual drinks too much alcohol, they may die from alcohol intoxication. Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous.6

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain and Central Nervous System?

There are several short- and long-term effects of alcohol on the brain. The effects of alcohol on the brain can vary depending on the amount of alcohol drunk as well as other factors discussed below.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

There are many impacts of alcohol and the brain. These short-term impacts can become noticeable almost immediately and impact brain chemistry and the body. The short-term effects of alcohol on the brain include:

  • Euphoria
  • Depression
  • Mania
  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Slowed breathing and heart
  • rates
  • Coma

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

There are many long-term effects of alcohol on the brain. Although much research continues to be conducted on just how long-lasting these effects can be, there are some effects of alcohol on the brain that are commonly known among the medical and research community.

  • Withdrawal symptoms: Withdrawal symptoms can occur when an individual who normally drinks alcohol ceases their alcohol consumption. This withdrawal stage can result in unpleasant symptoms that sometimes lead to hospitalization.
  • Damage to neurotransmitters: The main brain damage from alcohol occurs within the neurotransmitters in the brain. Excessive alcohol usage can also impact neurons in the brain which leads to other neurological deficits.
  • Brain shrinkage: Heavy usage of alcohol can disrupt the growth of new brain cells which can lead to alcohol and brain deficits.
  • Cognitive impairment: One impact of alcohol on the brain is cognitive impairment. Consuming alcohol can inhibit cognitive control, problem solving, and memory.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a serious condition wherein an individual who heavily consumes alcohol develops a deficiency in thiamine. With symptoms including confusion, paralysis of the nerves in the eye, and difficulty with muscle coordination, this is a very serious disorder.7

Brain Recovery from Alcohol

Those who suffer from alcohol substance abuse disorder can find many treatment options to help them in recovery. The relationship between alcohol and the brain does not need to completely take over an individual’s life, and there is hope for recovery.

How Long Does It Take for the Brain to Recover from Alcohol?

Alcohol-related brain damage is not something to take lightly. In fact, the relationship between alcohol and brain function can take a long time to repair. Luckily, the brain is resilient and can support the new growth of neurons and brain cells. By using neural imaging, clinicians can monitor the structural, functional, and biochemical changes in those recovering from alcoholism.8

What’s the Timeline?

How long it takes for the brain to recover from alcohol depends on several factors, but recovery can occur with the right tools and treatment. Although many people who receive treatment for alcoholism show improvement in their brain structure and functioning within just one year of abstinence, there are some cases in which this can take longer.

Treatment for Alcohol Abuse in San Fernando Valley

Alcohol and Brain

Because the impact of alcohol on the brain can have severe repercussions, those who struggle with alcohol addiction should seek treatment for alcohol abuse. Through treatment and medication, the negative relationship between the brain and alcohol can be reversed.

Alcohol Abuse Treatment Options

It can be challenging to overcome the addictive qualities of alcohol and brain, even with a strong support system and dedication to recovery. There are many alcohol abuse treatment options available for individuals who suffer from alcohol misuse. Some of the most common alcohol abuse treatment options available include:

Find Help at Concise Recovery

The relationship between alcohol and the brain is one that can have severe consequences. For those who struggle with heavy alcohol usage and are looking for the best treatment options, the professionals at Concise Recovery can help. Contact Concise Recovery today for more information on the alcohol abuse treatment options available.