How does alcohol affect the brain?
Answered by Discovery Fit & Health
  • Discovery Fit & Health

    Discovery Fit & Health

  1. Alcohol has effects on different areas of the brain.

    • In the region of the cerebral cortex, alcohol decreases a person's inhibitions and slows down thought processes as well as the processing of incoming visual and auditory information.
    • The cerebellum, the center of balance, is affected, leading to the staggering gait of a drunk.
    • The effect on the hypothalamus and pituitary increases sexual desire, but decreases actual performance.
    • Alcohol acts on the medulla to slow a person's breathing and decrease body temperature, which can cause death.

    In the long run, heavy drinking can cause severe and permanent brain damage, and your brain can really shrink. Many alcoholics come down with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome because alcohol interferes with the body's absorption of thiamine. This syndrome causes mental confusion, lack of coordination and problems with memory and learning. Dependence on alcohol also causes changes in the brain's chemistry, and if a person tries to stop drinking suddenly, withdrawal symptoms of delirium tremens (DTs), hallucinations, nausea and seizures can result. Detoxification centers can help to alleviate these symptoms.

    The brain is not the only organ that's damaged by alcoholism. Usually, the first organ people think of when hearing about alcohol damage is the liver. The liver bear the brunt of alcoholism, as it's the organ that attempts to break down alcohol and remove toxins. Long-term drinking leads to alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), with up to 70 percent of people going on to develop cirrhosis, a scarring of the liver that destroys its ability to function. The heart is also damaged by too much alcohol, leading to heart disease, high blood pressure and some types of stroke. Furthermore, long-term drinking can cause stomach ulcers, pancreatitis and cancer of the esophagus, larynx and mouth.

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