Alcohol affects the brain in many ways. People often don’t realize the damage it can do. What are some short-term and long-term effects of alcohol use?
Reduced Inhibition and Impaired Judgment
Alcohol suppresses activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control. This leads to riskier behavior. Alcoholics often make poor decisions while intoxicated that they later regret. Their addiction causes them to continue drinking despite negative consequences. Treatment through counseling, support groups, and sometimes medication can help alcoholics achieve sobriety and avoid the many problems associated with excessive, uncontrolled drinking. A medical detox facility can help with this goal.
Impaired Coordination and Motor Control
Alcohol reduces inhibition and impacts judgment, causing intoxicated people to take greater risks. Visuospatial abilities and working memory are also diminished. Balance, speech, vision, hearing, and fine motor skills are compromised. The cerebellum, vital for motor control, is particularly susceptible to alcohol. Drinking to excess increases the likelihood of accidents and injury due to impaired coordination and slowed reflexes caused by alcohol intoxication.
Changes in Perception
As blood alcohol content increases, perception, and cognitive functioning become impaired. Vision may blur, reaction times slow, and judgment may become compromised. Intoxication leads to reduced inhibitions and exaggerated emotions. Drinkers often experience mood swings, act impulsively, slur speech, and lose balance and coordination. Heavy alcohol use over time can damage the brain and nervous system, leading to blackouts, memory loss, and long-term changes in behavior and personality.
Decreased Reaction Time and Reflexes
Alcoholism can severely impair reaction time and reflexes. When someone drinks excessively over a long period of time, their brain chemistry is altered. Neural pathways become damaged, leading to slowed information processing. Intoxication further hampers reflexes and response times. Simple reactions become sluggish. Complex tasks requiring coordination are performed poorly. Even after sobering up, alcoholics may continue experiencing deficits. Recovery takes time as neural pathways must reroute and rebuild. Abstaining from alcohol is key to regaining normal reaction times and reflexes after prolonged abuse.
Additional Short-Term Effects
The hippocampus and cerebral cortex, areas involved in memory formation, are impacted leading to blackouts. Alcohol triggers the release of dopamine which can cause euphoria and mood changes. However, it also suppresses glutamate which controls excitability, causing sedation. In the long term, heavy and prolonged alcohol abuse can cause permanent neurological damage. What are some possible long-term effects of heavy alcohol use?
A deficiency in thiamine caused by alcohol dependence damages the brain, leading to vision changes, ataxia, and memory loss.
Years of alcohol abuse kills brain cells and shrinks brain tissue, particularly in the cortex and hippocampus, leading to impaired executive function and memory. Getting treatment and support can help manage symptoms and stop further damage.
Increased Risk of Permanent Brain Damage
Years of alcohol abuse causes changes in the brain’s blood vessels, increasing the risk of stroke and bleeding in the brain. Quitting heavy drinking can quickly reduce stroke risks. Even light to moderate drinking may increase stroke risks.
Structural Brain Changes
Studies of the brains of those with alcoholism show actual shrinkage and damage to white and gray matter compared to non-alcoholic brains. Recovering alcoholics often show partial reversal of brain atrophy, but some structural damage may be permanent. Addressing the root causes of alcoholism and providing treatment and support can help prevent further structural degradation.
Damage to the peripheral nervous system from excessive alcohol use causes tingling, numbness, pain, and muscle weakness in the extremities.
The effects of heavy alcohol use build over time. Moderate drinking helps reduce the risks of short and long-term effects. Seek help today to stop drinking and protect your health.