Alcohol Effects on the Brain
Alcohol has systemic effects on the human body, and the human brain is especially sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Alcohol effects operation of multiple neurotransmitters in the brain at the molecular level, which affects memory, speech, coordination and judgment. This article explores the acute and chronic alcohol effects on the brain.
ACUTE EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL ON THE HUMAN BRAIN
Alcohol causes a number of acute changes in a person's behavior and mental function. Acute effects include loss of coordination, slurred speech, slower reaction times, short term memory loss and blurred vision. Coma and death may also occur, since alcohol has a depressive effect on the medulla of the human brain, which controls automatic functions such as heartbeat and breathing. Consumption of alcohol also leads to behavioral changes such as increased talkativeness and impaired judgment.
CHEMICAL CHANGES IN THE HUMAN BRAIN FROM ALCOHOL
Alcohol has numerous effects on cognitive function because it effects multiple neurotransmitters in the human brain. This is unlike other drugs, such as cocaine or morphine, which effect a single neurotransmitter pathway. As a result, alcoholics suffer from a large range of problems, especially in memory function and physical coordination. Some of the effects of alcohol on the neurotransmitter pathways in the human brain include:
Glutamate impairment. Alcohol impairs the functioning of glutamate in the human brain, which causes difficulties in coordination and memory formation.
Dopamine level increase. Alcohol increases dopamine levels in the human brain, which leads to excitability, talkativeness and giddiness.
Endorphin level increase. Alcohol also increases the endorphin levels in the human brain, causing an increase in pain threshold and euphoria.
Gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) enhancement. Alcohol enhances the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA in the human brain, which depresses neural activity, leading to a feeling of calmness, sleepiness and reduced anxiety.
CHRONIC EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL ON THE HUMAN BRAIN
Long term, alcohol can have extremely debilitating effects on the human brain. The chronic effects are exhibited particularly in memory function, as alcoholics have difficulty both in forming new memories and in recalling old ones. Alcoholics can also exhibit loss of coordination or shaky hands.
One of the extreme conditions brought on by alcohol abuse is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), arising from a deficiency of thiamine in the human brain. While thiamine is common in many foods, alcoholics often suffer from a deficiency as a result of poor nutrition or liver damage. WKS sufferers exhibit mental confusion, paralysis in the muscles controlling the eyes, loss of muscle coordination and severe memory and learning debilitation.
Alcohol abuse has severe, crippling effects on the human brain. Because it effects multiple chemical pathways within the human brain, alcohol can cause extensive damage to a person's mental and physical capabilities. Although some of these capabilities can be recovered by avoidance of alcohol and rehabilitation, some of the effects are irreversible. The human brain is a delicate, yet powerful instrument, and individuals are well advised to protect it from the effects of alcohol abuse.