Most of us drink alcohol on a regular basis and that's not a problem, as long as you do it responsibly. Enjoying a few drinks to unwind every now and again is fine, but it's important to remember that alcohol can impact your health in a lot of ways if you are not careful with it.
Often, people get into trouble with alcohol because they don't really understand how it affects their brain in the short term as well as the long term. But knowing what happens to you when you drink can help you manage the risks and enjoy alcohol responsibly. So, how does alcohol affect your brain?
What Happens To Your Brain When You Drink?
When you have a drink, the alcohol travels through your bloodstream and eventually ends up in your brain. Here, it impacts the way that your brain works by acting on different receptors in your brain cells.
Your body has what is known as an "alcohol dehydrogenase" enzyme which helps break down the alcohol. As this happens, a chemical known as acetaldehyde is produced and it is thought to cause most of the short-term effects we experience after drinking alcohol.
However, there are several other chemicals that may also be responsible for some of the changes that occur in your brain when you drink alcohol such as acetate, tannins, benzyl alcohol, histamine, and tyramine. All of these chemicals are thought to impact your brain in different ways...
- Acetaldehyde is thought to cause short-term effects such as nausea, vomiting, and flushing that people sometimes experience after drinking too much alcohol.
- Acetate is thought to make you feel more relaxed and sociable.
- Benzyl alcohol has been shown to affect how your brain responds to certain stimuli such as sound.
- Histamine makes some people sleepy and may also cause drowsiness after drinking too much alcohol.
Different levels of these chemical compounds are present in certain drinks, which is why people are impacted in different ways depending on what they drink.
The Short Term Effects Of Alcohol
Alcohol makes your brain less sensitive to the neurotransmitter GABA, which is one of the main "inhibitory" neurotransmitters in your brain. This means that the signals between your brain cells are able to travel more easily.
This causes a widespread slowing down of brain activity which means that thought, speech, movement, judgment, and coordination are also slowed down. These effects can easily be seen when you drink alcohol to the point where you start slurring your words or having difficulty walking.
However, this effect on your brain is likely what makes you feel more relaxed after drinking. These short-term effects will wear off after a few hours as your body processes the alcohol. However, drinking too often can leave you with some long-term effects that you need to be aware of.
Long Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain
If you drink too much alcohol, it can take a toll on your brain cells.
Alcohol acts as a toxin in your body and can kill brain cells which means that over time it will reduce the number of neurons (nerve cells) in your brain. This means that your cognitive function will suffer.
It also impacts the reward centers in your brain and can cause addiction and dependence because it changes the chemical balance in your brain. Alcohol affects the way that dopamine is released and reabsorbed which makes you crave alcohol. This can eventually lead to alcohol addiction. If you are concerned about addiction, it's important that you seek advice from an alcohol rehab facility right away. Early intervention is crucial in managing addiction.
Alcohol impacts serotonin levels which regulate mood, appetite, sleep, memory, learning abilities, and other brain functions. It is very common for people that drink a lot of alcohol to develop mental health issues like depression and anxiety as a result. Many people with mental health issues also use alcohol as a way to self-medicate, but this only exacerbates their symptoms because it will decrease serotonin levels in the brain over time. That’s why reducing your alcohol intake is one of the best ways to manage your health and feel better.
Drinking alcohol in moderation will not cause any long-term effects and there is no reason why you can't enjoy it. However, when you drink excessively on a regular basis, you are actually altering your brain. You kill off brain cells and even change the way that the reward systems in your brain work, which can quickly lead to addiction and mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Once these long-term effects have set in, it can be very difficult to reverse them.