How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain

Medically Reviewed

It may be hard to comprehend how the deadliest drug in the United States can hide behind its legal status. Alcohol has been at the center of controversy for hundreds of years, and it is by far the most dangerous product that is available to the masses. Each country in the world has its fair share of issues that deal with alcohol, but every day more and more is manufactured and put onto shelves. If you are the age the government considers you able to drink, you can walk into a store and purchase the substance. Many companies shamelessly advertise alcohol as harmless.

When you watch an alcohol commercial, it sucks you into a fantasy that allows you to shed all fears and inhibitions. They promote a product that makes you feel alive and living in a world beyond your means. These misleading messages give off the perception that drinking won’t lead to any long-term effects. Unfortunately, long-term alcohol abuse can affect your brain and many other areas in your life. It’s possible to develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD) as a result of drinking.

Alcohol’s effects often mask the damage someone will sustain over extended periods of drinking. A report released in 2017 by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that an estimated 14.4 million Americans over the age of 12 were struggling with an alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, only 1.1 million of them sought help in the last year.

You may not consider yourself a chronic user of alcohol, but there are still short-term effects that can affect you in the long-term. You may experience permanent physical or psychological consequences due to overdrinking.

An estimated 88,000 people die every year due to alcohol-related issues. It is reported that alcohol registers worldwide at 3.3 million deaths annually. The World Health Organization (WHO) also highlights that alcohol use contributes to 200 diseases and other injury-related health concerns.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Even if you consider yourself a social drinker, you can still harm yourself in the short-term from drinking. The liver is only capable of metabolizing one standard drink of alcohol per hour, but it will depend on several factors. These include your age, weight, liver function, and gender. Consuming more than a single beverage per hour will lead to severe intoxication and raise your blood alcohol content (BAC) with every drink consumed.

The effects of alcohol can range from mild to severe, and you can experience anything from flushed skin to passing out and vomiting. Other short-term effects you can expect from alcohol consumption include:

  • Concentration difficulties
  • Lowered inhibitions that lead to poor judgment (e.g., unprotected sex or driving a motor vehicle)
  • Losing coordination
  • Loss of critical judgment
  • Blurry vision
  • Mood swings
  • A spike in blood pressure
  • Passing out
  • Reduction in body temperature
  • Vomiting

Even if you are not classified as a chronic alcohol user, you are still prone to experiencing deadly effects. There are many stories about the horrors of alcohol poisoning when they aren’t regular drinkers. A teenage girl named Julia Gonzales was found dead in a park back in 2008, and her body showed a blood-alcohol content that was equivalent to 16 drinks in an hour. As we described above, our bodies can only accept one standard drink per hour.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on Our Brain

It’s apparent that alcohol affects our brain, and these impairments are detectable after only one or two drinks and will quickly resolve themselves when we stop drinking. On the other hand, however, someone who drinks heavily over extended periods exposes themselves to permanent brain damage that will persist long after they’ve stopped drinking.

Heavy drinking can have extensive and far-reaching effects on the brain, which range from slips in our memory to debilitating conditions that require lifetime care. Even moderate drinking may lead to short-term impairment, which is seen in drinking and driving.

A number of factors will influence how alcohol will affect our brain; these include:

  • How often someone drinks
  • How much someone drinks
  • The age the person first started drinking, or how long they’ve been drinking
  • Age, level of education, gender, family history of drinking, and genetic background
  • General health
  • Prenatal exposure

Alcohol may produce detectable impairments in memory after a few drinks, but as more is consumed, there will be considerable differences in impairment. Large quantities of the substance on an empty stomach can cause blackouts, which is when the intoxicated person cannot recall key details of an event or an entire event.

Other long-term effects include:

  • Diminished gray matter in the brain
  • Diminished white matter in the brain
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of attention span
  • Major depression
  • Schizophrenia
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