How Does Alcohol use Affect The Brain?

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Having a drink or two at home or in a social setting can cause many people to start feeling effects such as slight dizziness, lack of coordination, and lowered inhibition. For most people, these effects will resolve once they have become sober. Although most people who drink alcohol do so in moderation, millions of Americans are also estimated to have a harmful relationship with drinking. People who use alcohol are at risk for the same mental and emotional effects experienced by those who drink in moderation, and more. Chronic alcohol use, and heavy short-term alcohol use, can have serious and lasting effects on the brain. These effects, ranging from memory lapses to confusion and coordination problems may persist after a person has become sober, depending on the severity of a person’s alcoholism. Many cognitive effects of alcohol use, however, can also be improved and sometimes reversed with treatment. The most effective way to overcome alcohol use and prevent long-lasting effects on the brain is to seek professional alcohol use and addiction treatment. Within a rehab setting, patients can work with a team of medical and behavioral specialists to identify and effectively treat the harmful effects of their drinking.

Alcohol’s Effect On The Brain

Despite the initial buzz that people can experience after drinking alcohol, alcohol is officially classified as a depressant. This means it actually slows activity in the brain and body through its interaction with chemicals in the brain. This includes the neurotransmitter dopamine, as well as GABA and glutamate. The depressant effects of alcohol can lead to effects commonly experienced when drunk, such as lack of coordination, slurred speech, and hazy thinking. Alcohol’s effects on the brain can also make a person behave differently than normal and cause intense mood swings. Drinking in moderation carries a low risk of significant brain damage. Abusing alcohol, however, can lead to more significant effects within the brain, such as long-term difficulties with concentration, memory loss, and addiction. Chronic alcohol use can lead to brain damage, as a result of prolonged exposure to heavy alcohol use. This is most common among people who have been abusing alcohol in heavy amounts for years or decades, although other factors can also influence this risk. Factors that can influence how much someone’s brain is affected by alcohol include:
  • age
  • gender
  • amount of alcohol consumed
  • how often a person drinks
  • how long a person has been drinking
  • previous or concurrent history of drug use
  • overall health
  • family history of alcohol use
  • prenatal exposure to alcohol
Being malnourished, or having co-occurring mental health problems such as depression can also increase the risk for developing alcohol-related brain damage.

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol use On The Brain

Drinking alcohol can quickly have effects that range from a feeling of warmness, to relaxation and slower reaction times. Abusing alcohol, however, can cause these effects to be more intense, and risk other harmful effects on the brain. Short-term effects of alcohol use on the brain include:
  • poor judgment skills
  • lack of coordination
  • loss of balance
  • drowsiness
  • blurred vision
  • confusion
  • greater risk for falls and other injuries
  • recklessness
  • aggressive behavior
  • depression
  • memory loss or blackouts
Alcohol use also increases a person’s risk for alcohol poisoning, which occurs afters drinking an excessive amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. This can cause symptoms such as vomiting, loss of consciousness, and unusually slow breathing. In severe cases, alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening and cause sudden death. If you or someone you know is showing signs of alcohol poisoning or other serious symptoms after heavy drinking, seek medical help right away.

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol use On The Brain

Drinking alcohol on a frequent basis can cause people to develop a higher tolerance for alcohol, requiring a person drink more alcohol to experience the same effects. The body can also begin to adapt to the presence of alcohol in a person’s system, causing alcohol dependence. This can lead a person to experience withdrawal symptoms, sometimes within hours of their last drink. However, not every person who uses alcohol becomes physically dependent on it. Alcohol dependence occurs over time through drinking on a day-to-day basis, often multiple times a day. Alcohol use can also cause a person to become psychologically addicted, craving alcohol throughout the day and having a hard time focusing on anything other than drinking. Dependence and addiction are not the only long-term risks of alcohol use. Chronic alcohol use can cause noticeable changes to various areas of the brain, and cause some areas to shrink. In time, these changes can disrupt the brain’s ability to function normally. The types of long-term effects alcohol use can have on the brain include:
  • memory and learning problems
  • irregular sleeping pattern (insomnia)
  • impaired coordination
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • aggression
  • learning problems
  • low attention span
  • cravings for alcohol
  • nerve damage
  • increased risk for dementia (in the elderly)
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (“wet brain”)
  • severe dependence and addiction
Long-term effects of alcohol use can cause changes in how a person behaves, their mood, and negatively impact their ability to function in their normal routine. This can affect a person’s ability to work, take care of a family, and may lead to problems such as job loss and financial problems.

Can Effects Of Alcohol use Be Reversed?

The answer to whether or not cognitive effects of alcohol use can be reversed depend on how long a person has been abusing alcohol, in what amount, and other aspects of their health. The most accurate way to determine the extent of someone’s alcohol-related brain damage is to seek professional treatment. In some cases, people who have been abusing alcohol for years or decades may require an alcohol treatment plan that is focused on managing the consequences of their drinking, rather than reversal. This may involve the use of certain medications and therapeutic interventions that target the specific problems a person is facing. Becoming sober and undergoing treatment for alcohol use, however, is the most effective way to determine a person’s needs and prevent further damage. For most people, this process will begin within an inpatient rehab program, where patients can be assessed and set up with a personalized treatment plan for alcohol use recovery.

Getting Help For Alcohol use

Seeking help for alcohol use is not always easy. At Vertava Health Ohio rehab facility, our treatment team of specialists offers a non-judgmental, effective approach to treatment that takes into account the physical, mental, and psychological needs of each patient. Within our intensive alcohol rehab and detox, patients have access to a team of specialists who collaborate to determine a treatment plan that best suits each patient’s personal needs. This can include treatments capable of helping improve problem-solving skills, attention span, and memory. At Vertava Health Ohio, our alcohol rehab program features a variety of multi-level care treatment services and amenities, including:
  • a peaceful location
  • medically supervised detox
  • 24-hour supervision and support
  • behavioral therapy
  • group therapy
  • dual-diagnosis
  • medication-assisted treatment
  • holistic therapies
  • adventure and wilderness therapy
  • aftercare support
Contact Vertava Health Ohio today to learn more about our alcohol use rehab programs in Ohio and our effective approach to helping patients achieve lasting recovery.