How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
Alcohol is considered a depressant, which causes normal brain activity and functioning to slow down. The inability to maintain balance, slurred speech, staggering, or problems concentrating, thinking, and recalling events are some of the effects alcohol has on the body and brain. You may have noticed one of your friends or family members experiencing these effects or have experienced them yourself, first-hand.
The primary parts of the brain directly affected by alcohol include:
• Cerebellum – The cerebellum helps regulate balance and control of the body.
• Medulla – The medulla is responsible for automated body functions, like breathing and remaining conscious.
• Pituitary Gland and Hypothalamus – Both of these regulate the release of hormones and affect sexual performance and arousal.
• Cerebral Cortex – The cerebral cortex helps us process our thoughts and make decisions.
As alcohol enters the blood stream and is circulated throughout the body, it alters the chemistry of the brain by affecting the neurotransmitters that send signals throughout the body, controls the central nervous system, and regulates thought processes, emotional responses, and behavior. How alcohol affects a person often varies.
For instance, you might have the one friend who is considered a “happy drunk.” They say they love you, hug you, and tell you they are having the time of their life. On the other hand, you could have a friend who is a “sad drunk.” Rather than becoming cheerful, they start to feel depressed, tell you no one loves them, and start crying. Then, there is the “angry drunk.” This type of alcoholic is one who becomes irate, upset, and angry over the littlest of things. They can become aggressive, yell, and get into fights.
Exactly what does happen in the brain while drinking alcohol? There are two basic types of neurotransmitters in the brain: inhibitory and excitatory. As you might have guessed, inhibitory neurotransmitters reduce or inhibit brain functions and slow reaction times. Excitatory neurotransmitters increase brain functions and activity. Alcohol increases the release of inhibitory neurotransmitters, while at the same time reduces the release of excitatory neurotransmitters.
However, alcohol has a secondary effect on the brain and causes it to release increased levels of dopamine, which makes us feel relaxed and happy. This why some people are “happy drunks,” although there is only such much dopamine the brain can release before its stores are depleted.
Alcohol tricks a person to consume even more to experience the pleasure they find in drinking from the release of dopamine. When dopamine levels are depleted, the depressive effects of alcohol become more pronounced. Furthermore, once people get to this point in their drinking habit, they have developed an alcohol addiction since they are seeking the previous pleasure they experienced from the dopamine, even though it may not be released.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcoholism, contact Yellowstone Recovery at (888) 941-9048 for help and to learn more about affordable treatment options.
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