Alcohol has long been known to cause hangovers. But did you know alcohol also affects our brains? The human body metabolises alcohol at a rate of approximately 0.1% per hour. This means that after drinking only two glasses of wine, you will reach peak blood alcohol levels (BAL) within four hours.
Alcohol is a depressant drug that slows down the central nervous system. It causes the release of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which makes us feel happy and relaxed. However, excessive consumption of alcohol can cause damage to the brain.
Our Brain – A Sponge for Alcohol
The brain contains about 100 billion neurons. These are nerve cells in your brain responsible for transmitting electrical signals throughout your body. They are made up of cell bodies called neurons and networks of dendrites, axons and synapses.
These communicate with each other via chemical signalling across tiny gaps between them. This process occurs at an extremely high speed. When we drink alcohol it passes into the bloodstream and spreads around the body.
It then reaches the brain where it binds to specific proteins called GABAA receptors. These are found on the surface of the neuron cell membranes. Once they bind to these receptors, they become activated. The more bound receptors there are, the greater the effect of the alcohol on the neurons. This results in slower reactions and impaired memory.
When alcohol enters your brain, the first area affected is the cerebral cortex. This is one part of the brain that controls thinking skills such as speech or motor control. It is involved in complex functions like memory and sensory perception. However, once alcohol gets into the brain it does not affect all parts equally. Some areas of the cortex remain unaffected by alcohol while others are inhibited.
There are regions that send messages to and receive information from the rest of the brain. One region is located near the hippocampus. This part of the brain performs three main functions:
- Memory formation
- Learning new things
- Mood regulation
While the frontal lobe is responsible for higher-level cognitive processes including planning, judgement, decision making and emotional responses.
Also, read: How To Stay Healthy During Addiction Recovery
Effects of Over Drinking
Overdrinking leads to increased stress hormones like cortisol. Cortisol increases the activity of certain enzymes that break down stored fats into fatty acids. These fatty acids cross the blood-brain barrier and enter your brain. They act as fuel for your brain cells.
The brain stores most of its own fat during childhood. When this fat supply is depleted, your body starts to use its muscle mass instead. If you continue to overdrink, your liver releases large amounts of free fatty acids into your bloodstream. As a result, your muscles start to waste away.
If you keep consuming alcohol, your body eventually begins to produce less insulin, as well. Insulin is produced when glucose levels rise in the blood. Insulin helps convert sugar to energy. When your pancreas stops producing insulin, your liver no longer converts it back to sugar. Because your liver has no way to get rid of the extra insulin, it builds up inside your tissues.
This build-up of insulin contributes to the accumulation of fat in your liver and pancreas. In fact, researchers have discovered that people who regularly drink heavily accumulate twice as much abdominal fat as heavy drinkers who consume the same amount of calories but only occasionally.
In addition to causing obesity, too much alcohol intake also affects how your body metabolises carbohydrates.
As you can see, alcohol abuse can be extremely detrimental for your brain’s health. If you are having trouble with alcohol abuse, consider getting treatment for alcohol addiction as soon as possible and start living a healthier, happier life.
Finding the Right Treatment for Alcohol Abuse
If you are looking for alcoholism treatment, the first thing you need to go through is alcohol detox. Detoxification is a process of several steps designed to flush out toxins from your body so you can recover faster and feel better overall.
You can contact a private treatment provider, an NHS hotline, a charity hotline or your GP to ask about opportunities around your locations. However, inpatient detox is not the only option for healing from alcohol addiction’s effects.
UK Home Detox staff recommend only trusting services that offer supervised home detoxes, such as theirs. Supervised detox guarantees complete security and medical assistance. Without these, there are serious withdrawal symptoms that, if left untreated and unregulated, may lead to a visit to the ER. However, with the right medical help, it is a rare occurrence.
If you are binge drinking, drinking as a way to self-medicate for a mental health issue, stress or exhaustion, you are abusing alcohol. In this case, you should seek assistance and see what is the better way to handle your specific issue.
To better heal, you will also need the support of a close friend, a trusted relative and family member, your partner or medically trained personnel. Even if the at-home detox provider has 24/7 assistance available and on-call medics, there should always be someone with you to support and help out when you most need it.
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