One in every thirteen adults suffer from alcoholism today in the United States alone (Connery 1). This is just one of many devastating truths about alcoholism. Available information on alcohol is abundant and includes not only statistics, but the differences between an alcoholic’s brain and a healthy adult’s brain, the negative affects alcohol has on the brain, and how to prevent those effects. Many people do not understand what, exactly, alcohol is. Think Quest states the following: Alcohol is a clear drink that is made from corn, barley, grain, rye, or a beverage containing ethyl.
When someone drinks alcohol, about 20 percent is absorbed in the stomach, and 80 percent is absorbed in the small intestine. The concentration of alcohol, the type of drink, and whether the stomach is full or empty depends on how fast the alcohol is absorbed. Once the alcohol is absorbed into the tissue, it affects your mind and body. Blood alcohol concentration can rise up to 20 minutes after having a drink. After alcohol is absorbed it leaves the body in three ways: the kidneys, lungs, and liver.
1). Alcohol can affect your body in many ways such as your liver and many other major body organs. But long term, heavy alcohol abuse has more lasting effects on the brain. Research studies show that between fifty and seventy-five percent of alcoholics experience difficulties in learning, remembering, perceiving, and solving problems” (Berger 2). The liver is in charge of breaking down all of the alcohol in the body.
2). The liver can only handle about one drink per hour. When someone drinks more than one to two drinks an hour, they are more likely to pass out or black out. Also, liver diseases are able to develop from alcohol abuse. One disease being Liver Cirrhosis.
Liver Cirrhosis is basically a disease that kills the liver very slowly. Luckily, there are many symptoms to heighten the chances of catching it early on. Alcohol abuse can effect many organs other than the liver. “Chemically, alcohol is a depressant that suppresses central nervous system activity. When is enters the stomach, most of s goes to the small intestine but some enters the blood stream where it finds its way to the brain” (Hollen 27). Also, “As the amount of alcohol in the body increases and the central nervous system is further depressed, reflexes and coordination show and speech may become slurred” (Hollen 27).
When large amounts of alcohol are consumed, reaction times may change dramatically, that is why people say not to drink and drive. Many times people believe they are acting normally while intoxicated, and in reality, they are completely out of their character. Alcohol can increase your chance of developing high blood pressure, which is know to accelerate the decline in kidney function. Additionally, alcohol can irritate the linings of the stomach and cause you to vomit, which is the most common symptom of intoxication.
Although many people think they can handle large amounts of alcohol, many of them do not think about how the alcohol is affecting there bodies. Alcohol can affect your mind in many ways such as affecting your brain and much more. How much or how often a person drinks, the age they start and how long they have been drinking, gender, genetic background, general health status, family history, how old they are, and if they are at risk of prenatal alcohol exposer all determine the extent of brain damage one receives. A small amount of alcohol can affect many brain functions, like blacking out, and memory loss.
3). This can be very dangerous especially when entering a vehicle. It is imperative that a person take all steps to avoid blacking out behind the wheel. One of the conditions you can obtain from alcoholism is dementia. Dementia is a severe impairment or loss of intellectual capacity and personality integration, due to the loss of or damage to neurons in the brain. Out of all of the people admitted to state hospitals with dementia, twenty percent have been alcohol abusers (Berger 2).
Neurotransmitters can be affected by alcohol abuse as well. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit the signals throughout the body that control thought process, behavior and emotion. Alcohol triggers the release of neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. All of those are the “feeling good” neurotransmitters (Hollen 27). One way alcohol can affect the brain is that alcohol can alter the action of the chemicals that allow neurons to communicate.
4). “Extremely small amounts of alcohol have been shown to interfere with glutamate action.
The interference could affect multiple brain functions, including memory, and it may account for the short-lived condition referred to as “alcoholic blackout” (Oscar-Berman). Over time, alcohol abuse reduces the number of GABA receptors through the process of down-regulation. When alcohol is withdrawn you may experience seizures due to the loss of Gama-amino butyric acid (Oscar-Berman 3). This is why many individuals utilize rehabilitation facilities that are staffed with professionals who know how to deal with situations like this as they arise.
Alcohol affects many sections of the brain such as the cerebral cortex, limbic system, cerebellum, hypothalamus and pituitary gland, and medulla. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Imagine the cerebral cortex, limbic system, cerebellum, hypothalamus and pituitary gland, and medulla as links in a strong chain. Eventually one of the chain links will break and cause more and more links to break until it finally collapses and in some cases can result in death or severe injury.
Each part of the brain has a specific job and is negatively affected by chronic consumption of alcohol. The cerebral cortex is the intricately folded outer layer of the brain composed of nerve cell bodies (grey matter)” (Oscar-Berman 4). “In this region, where processing and consciousness are centered, alcohol depresses the behavioral inhibitory centers, making the person less inhibited, it slows down the processing of information from the eyes, ears, mouth, and other senses; and it inhibits the thought process, making it difficult to think clearly” (Watson 1). The cerebral cortex initiates most voluntary muscle movements, does your “thought” processing and consciousness, and processes information from your senses.
Alcohol can affect brain function by slowing down the process of information, can cause you to not think clearly, and not use good judgement. This is the very reason why the police use certain techniques such as saying your alphabet backwards and walking in a strait line. This is a very affective method used to determine whether or not a person is under the influence of alcohol. In addition to the afore mentioned negative affects, a person becomes more self-confident and less socially awkward. This explains why a person is prone to repeat the process and have another drink.
The limbic system consists of areas of the brain called the hippocampus and septal area. The limbic system controls emotions and memory. As alcohol affects this system, the person is subject to exaggerated states of emotion and memory loss. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that causes you to stagger and lost balance when intoxicated (Watson 2). The cerebellum is the cause of the saying, “falling down drunk,” because when you are intoxicated you lose your sense of balance as opposed to when you are sober and can hold your balance almost perfectly. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland coordinate automatic brain functions and hormone release. Alcohol depresses nerve centers in the hypothalamus that control sexual arousal and performance” (Watson 2).
When you are intoxicated, you end up urinating much more because levels of ADH drop and your kidneys do not reabsorb as much water so the kidneys produce more urine. As opposed to when you are sober and you maintain a healthy ADH level. The medulla, or brain stem, controls body temperature, heart rate, breathing, and consciousness (Watson 2). Basically everything that you do not have to think about.
When the alcohol starts to go into the medulla, a person may become unconscious or start to feel sleepy as the BAC (blood alcohol content) increases. In some cases, if the BAC gets high enough a person can stop breathing all together, and body temperature and blood pressure will fall and the person can die. Obviously when you are sober all of these effects will not happen if you are a average healthy person. Why is twenty-one the magic number when a person can legally consume alcohol?
Many young adults ask questions such as: How come I can legally be rafted to war but I can not drink alcohol? How come I am declared an adult at eighteen, yet I can not buy alcohol? Through my research, I have found the answer. Did you know that people who reported starting to drink before the age of fifteen were four times more likely to become an alcoholic at some point in their lives? The reason why the drinking age is twenty-one is that a teenagers brain is not fully developed until about twenty years of age, and because of that, alcohol affects and adults brain differently than a teenagers brain.
The Teenage brain is not ready for alcohol consumption because their brains are not fully developed. Can you still drink and not get brain damage? Drinking in moderation is not going to hurt you. Experts estimate it takes about ten years of heavy drinking for some brain damage to occur, but some people can drink heavy for more than twenty years and still not have it severe enough to make them quit drinking. Doctors do not recommend drinking everyday, but if you do, there still is a chance that you might get some damage, maybe not as much if you were a chronic drinker, but still some brain damage will occur.
In conclusion, it is clear that alcohol abuse will have a long-term effect on the brain. All the scientific evidence presents a clear case. Side effects such as blacking out or memory loss can be devastating, not only to the individual, but also to family members and loved ones. Alcoholism, or alcohol dependency, is a growing problem in the United States. Information on alcohol includes, but is not limited to, the differences between and alcoholic’s brain and a healthy adult’s brain, the negative affects alcohol has on the brain, and how to prevent those effects.