Starting with the first sip, alcohol begins to impact brain function. For moderate or occasional drinkers, the impact usually starts with a pleasant buzz. The worst that will likely happen when drinking alcohol is that your night may end with a headache or the next day may start with a mild hangover. These effects are relatively mild and aren’t considered dangerous in the long term. Therefore, if you’re having occasional drinks and wondering: does alcohol damage brain cells? and what are the parts of the brain affected by alcohol? You’re likely safe from the harmful effects of drinking.
However, for individuals who regularly engage in binge drinking or other types of alcohol abuse, the effects of alcohol on the brain are significantly more dangerous. If you are suffering from alcohol addiction or are concerned that you may have a physical alcohol dependence, it’s important to know how this substance affects your brain. In this blog, we’ll examine how alcohol affects the central nervous system and how you can avoid the negative effects of alcohol on your brain.
We will also answer questions such as: Does alcohol damage brain cells? How does alcohol affect the central nervous system? What happens to your brain when you stop drinking alcohol? Lastly, what parts of the brain are affected by alcohol?
How Alcohol Affects the Brain
Alcohol affects the brain in many ways. Similar to other drugs, alcohol alters the way that neurotransmitters in the brain function. Neurotransmitters are responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells. When alcohol is present these signals are disrupted. This can lead to problems with cognitive functions like memory, learning, and coordination.
While alcohol undeniably affects the brain, it affects everyone differently. Many variables determine how much damage is done to the brain after chronic alcohol abuse. A few indicators that alcohol will have a great effect on your brain include the following:
- Drink often
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- Prenatal exposure to alcohol
- Beginning to drink at a young age
- Having a family history of alcohol addiction
- A large number of years spent drinking heavily
- Drinking a large amount of alcohol each time you drink
The Short Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
Some of the effects of alcohol on the brain can be felt immediately. These effects usually aren’t long-lasting and usually go away after some time has passed. The short term effects of alcohol on the brain produce the following effects:
- Slurred speech
- Trouble focusing
- Changes in mood
- Lowered inhibitions
- Inability to make decisions
- Blackouts or loss of memory
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
- Loss of coordination or balance
- Hearing, vision, or perception changes
Some of these effects may present themselves after only a single drink. In contrast, effects such as blackouts or slurred speech may happen after several drinks. While these effects may not last for very long, they can be serious. This is especially true when it comes to reckless behavior or a loss of coordination that can lead to serious injuries.
Long Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
When it comes to the long-term effects of alcohol abuse on the brain, these tend to be more serious. These effects can persist even when the individual isn’t drinking. The long term effects of alcohol on the brain can cause the following issues:
- Difficulty focusing
- Korsakoff syndrome
- Problems with memory
- Increased risk of stroke
- Changes in mood or personality
- Decreased problem-solving skills
- Poor circulation of blood to the brain
There are various parts of the brain affected by alcohol, making the aforementioned effects permanent. The parts of the brain affected by alcohol include brain regions responsible for a person’s short-term and long-term memory, emotional regulation, and balance. These parts of the brain affected by alcohol can atrophy, or decrease in size, which reduces overall function.
Drinking excessively long-term can also negatively affect your overall mental health and physical health. The long-term risks associated with heavy drinking range from issues with internal organs such as the heart, liver, and intestines to various types of cancer. Drinking too much can also worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. In some cases, people who previously did not suffer from mental illness can develop one as a result of abusing alcohol.
Does Alcohol Damage Brain Cells?
Unfortunately, alcohol does damage brain cells. If a person consumes too much alcohol over a long period of time, there are many adverse effects it can have on his or her brain. This includes shrinkage of the brain, damage to brain cells, and an overall decrease in cognitive function. So, if you are asking yourself, does alcohol damage brain cells? The answer is yes.
The damage to brain cells caused by alcohol can cause other negative effects such as:
- Memory loss
- Brain shrinkage
- The development of learning disabilities
- Impaired judgment, leading to poor decision making
If a person does not stop drinking alcohol after long-term abuse, damage to the brain will continue to occur as long as they consume alcohol. This includes irreversible brain cell death because the development of new cells is inhibited. Just like other parts of the body that require oxygen and nutrients, so does the brain. This is why it is important to avoid consuming too much alcohol.
The Effect of Alcohol on the Central Nervous System
The effects of alcohol go beyond how it affects just the brain. Alcohol also affects the entire central nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and controls all of the body’s functions. When alcohol is present, the central nervous system is impaired, which can lead to serious health consequences like car accidents and falls. Even moderate alcohol use can affect this delicate system.
When a person drinks alcohol, it travels through the bloodstream to the brain. There, it acts as a depressant on the central nervous system, which can lead to dangerous effects. Ultimately, this means alcohol slows down the communication between the brain and the body, which can lead to slurred speech, difficulty walking, and loss of balance. Alcohol use can also make a person more susceptible to injuries because he or she is less likely to feel pain or react quickly.
The ability alcohol has to affect the central nervous system is another reason why consuming too much alcohol too often is so dangerous. It’s also why people who are addicted to alcohol often have problems with coordination, movement, and thinking. Therefore, not only does alcohol damage brain cells, but it can also affect the central nervous system.
What Happens to Your Brain When You Stop Drinking?
When you stop drinking, the brain begins to return to its normal state. In other words, the brain begins to heal when you stop drinking. This includes the re-establishment of communication between neurons. However, if you have been drinking heavily for an extended period of time, some parts of the brain affected by alcohol will experience irreversible damage. For such people that do drink heavily, some cognitive functions may still be impaired even after a few weeks of sobriety.
Once a person enters detox, that is when his or her brain will start to heal. Individuals that detox from alcohol or any other substance should do so at a medical detox facility or rehab center that offers medical detox services.
The intention of detox is to allow a person to get rid of all the alcohol in his or her system. This can take a few days or weeks, depending on how much alcohol that person consumed and how long that person was abusing alcohol.
Due to how the central nervous system adjusts to the constant presence of alcohol, the following uncomfortable symptoms can occur as a result of alcohol withdrawal:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty concentrating
It’s a good idea to quit drinking to prevent the damage alcohol does to brain cells. However, a person with a dependence on alcohol or an addiction to alcohol should never quit drinking abruptly or detox from alcohol on his or her own. Withdrawal from alcohol can be life-threatening, so it’s important to seek treatment that involves medical detox for substance abuse if you plan to get sober.
How to Prevent Brain Damage from Alcohol
Thankfully, there are ways to prevent damage to brain cells from alcohol consumption. If you are a heavy drinker, it is important to seek help and treatment to stop drinking. There are also things you can do to protect your brain, like eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Taking care of your mental health is also crucial, as depression and anxiety can increase your risk for alcohol-related brain damage.
The best way to prevent brain damage from alcohol consumption is to abstain from drinking altogether. This can be difficult for many people as drinking alcohol has become a social activity for many adults. Experts say that drinking in moderation can be safe as well though. Alcohol, when consumed occasionally can even have some health benefits. However, it’s important to not use this fact as an excuse to binge drink or drink regularly.
If you are unable to stop drinking, you should seek professional help. There are many resources available to those who are struggling with alcohol addiction. Rehabilitation and treatment programs can assist in helping people recover from their alcohol addictions. Alcohol rehab and addiction treatment programs can also reduce the risk of long-term damage to the brain.
Recovering from Alcohol Addiction with Harmony Place
We’ve answered the question does alcohol damage brain cells, among others. It should now be clear that alcohol does damage brain cells and impacts overall brain function. However, while alcohol has a significant impact on the brain, there is still hope for recovery.
If you or someone close to you is experiencing an addiction to alcohol, here at Harmony Place, we offer alcohol detox and alcohol addiction treatment. Our treatment professionals are equipped to help you gain control over excessive drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcohol addiction.
To find an alcohol addiction treatment program that works best for you and your needs, contact us today. Help is just one compassionate conversation away.