Alcohol and the Brain: How Does it Impact the Brain?


Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Addiction Hope

When drinking is involved, whether it is for a celebratory event, gathering with family or friends, over dinner, or whatever the occasion, the last thing that is likely on the mind of drinkers is how alcohol is impacting their brains.

Sure, the effects may be felt, such as feeling “tipsy”, or having a hangover. Aside from the obvious and immediate effects, many individuals may not fully be aware of how the brain is impacted by short and long term exposure to alcohol.

Short-term Effects

What are the short-term effects of alcohol consumption? Alcohol functions as a depressant, meaning that is suppresses the central nervous system. This commonly results in:

  • Decreased fine motor skills
  • Decreased muscle coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Depressed reflexes
  • Delayed reactions

Alcohol directly impacts the chemistry of the brain by influencing the level of neurotransmitters, which transmit signals throughout the body.

The Functions of the Body Slow Down

With increased levels of alcohol, the effects of inhibitory neurotransmitters are also increased, which in turn causes many functions in the body to slow down.

This is why after a drink or two or more, a person will begin to have difficulties thinking clearly, trouble maintaining movement and balance, experience memory lapses or even blackouts. Even in one drinking episode, detrimental consequences can result as the brain is exposed to alcohol.

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Long-term Effects

What is the brain is repeatedly exposed to alcohol? The long-term effects of alcohol on the brain are highly destructive. This is commonly seen in alcoholics, who engage in recurring and frequent drinking episodes. Long term drinking can actually cause permanent damage in the brain, causing the brain to shrink, which inhibits its capacity to carry information to other parts of the body.

Chronic levels of alcohol in the body also inhibit absorption of B vitamins, which are crucial for many biological functions and energy production. Many alcoholics are at risk from developing a condition known as Wernicke-Kosakoff Syndrome, which results from a deficiency of a B vitamin. This condition can lead to complications with memory and inhibit learning capacities.

As with all things, consequences result from all of our actions and choices. It is important to understand the risks that are being taken when choosing to drink alcohol, both in the short and long term. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, be sure to ask for help today!

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What are helpful suggestions for moderating alcohol intake and minimizing the harmful effects of alcohol on the brain?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 21st, 2015
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