Alcohol’s Effects On The Brain
December 9, 2021
Drinking alcoholic beverages is a popular stress reliever and pastime for many people. You may be a drinker as well. When taken moderately, alcohol does not cause harm.
But if taken excessively, alcohol exerts profound negative effects on your brain. It can influence your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. When your brain is under the influence of alcohol, you are prone to making bad decisions, which may lead to harming yourself and others.
Here is a list of alcohol effects on the brain.
Alcohol lowers your inhibitions
You may be fond of drinking alcohol because of the confidence boost you get out of it. Lowering your inhibitions is one of the most common alcohol effects, and it makes you more talkative, sociable, and comfortable in the company of others.
However, this effect is not all well and good. Having that much confidence without inhibitions can lead you to do things you would regret. For example, you could inadvertently divulge sensitive information about your work, which would violate your company’s nondisclosure agreements. In the worst case, this can get you fired from your job. Similarly, you may unintentionally expose secrets about close friends, family, your partner, or even yourself.
In short, even if alcohol gives you a temporary confidence boost, you need to be aware of the risks of having lowered inhibitions.
Alcohol causes memory lapses and blackouts
Another typical alcohol effect is memory impairment. Even a few drinks can negatively impact your memory, and the more drinks you have, the worse it is for your memory. If you’ve had a lot to drink, you may not remember many of the things that happened while you were intoxicated.
In some cases, you could even black out, especially when you drink so much on an empty stomach. When you experience a blackout, you will not be able to remember details of what happened.
You would wake up the next morning with practically no memory of what happened the previous night. The only time you would know is when the people you were with tell you about what happened.
Alcohol impairs reaction time and concentration
When you had a lot to drink, focusing and being alert will be much harder. For this reason, you are not supposed to do things like driving or operating heavy machinery when intoxicated. The United States even has laws that penalize driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Driving requires heightened focus, attention, and reaction time. Often, when on the road, only a split second separates safety from disaster. Thus, you need to be able to decelerate quickly enough when an obstacle suddenly pops up on your way.
But if you are under the influence of alcohol, its effects impact your attention, focus, and reaction time. You will not be as aware of your surroundings and other drivers near your vehicle. Also, your reaction time will be much slower, affecting your ability to stop the vehicle when necessary.
Also, when intoxicated, you cannot focus on tasks. You can’t work, study, or do anything that requires a lot of cognitive resources. If you experience a hangover the next day, alcohol still is affecting your brain, which impairs your ability to work.
Alcohol can produce dependence
One significant alcohol effect is the capability to make you dependent on it. If you’ve been drinking alcohol heavily for a long time, you may feel that you always need a drink. If you stop drinking, you’ll experience a range of withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings for alcohol.
Withdrawal symptoms vary, and different ones show up depending on how long it has been since the last drink. The first few symptoms are mild, and they can appear as early as 6 hours after the last drink:
- Shaky hands
After 12 hours to 2 days, you may experience hallucinations, and in some cases, seizures. The most serious withdrawal symptoms happen two to three days after the last drink. These are known collectively as delirium tremens, or DTs. DTs can include intense hallucinations and delusions. In addition to DTs, these symptoms may also show up:
- Very fast heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Profuse sweating
DTs occur only in about five percent of individuals with alcohol withdrawal. Despite this low proportion of cases, it is still a serious condition that requires immediate medical care.
You may develop alcohol use disorder
Once your body has become dependent on alcohol, you are at a greater risk of progressing into alcohol use disorder, also known as alcohol addiction. This is a widespread issue in the United States, affecting nearly 20 million Americans.
Alcohol use disorder is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to drink, even if you are aware of its negative impact on your career, health, and relationships. It’s as if you cannot function normally anymore without alcohol.
This condition also produces notable changes in your behavior. Here are a few examples:
- Isolating yourself when drinking
- Losing a lot of money or going broke over alcoholic beverages
- Routinely missing work or school because of hangovers
- Spending more time with a new circle of friends, most of whom also have drinking problems
- Verbally or physically abusing your family members
- Intense cravings for alcohol when there are no more drinks at home
- Getting involved in crimes (e.g. shoplifting, robbery) just to get alcohol
Is it possible to live a sober life again?
If you happen to be addicted to alcohol, it’s possible to get your sober life back. Addiction to any substance, including alcohol, can be treated with rehab. It can take a few months, depending on how severe your addiction is. You may also have to stay inside a rehab facility for a while so you can focus on your recovery.
In any case, the first step is to seek help. Talk to an addiction recovery professional or your primary care doctor today.