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How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

It’s no secret that alcohol affects the body in many ways. With alcohol-related hospital admissions at 976,425 related to alcohol consumption in 2019/20, fewer people are aware of how it directly influences brain function. Alcohol temporarily disrupts neural communication and can cause long-term changes to the structure and chemistry of certain areas in our brains.

In this post, we’ll discuss the effects of alcohol on our minds, including how it affects decision-making ability, memory formation, executive functioning, and pleasure response. As well as answering important questions such as “how does alcohol affect the brain?”, “how does alcohol affect memory?” and “what parts of the brain does alcohol affect?”. Read on to find out how drinking alcohol affects our cognitive abilities. 

How does alcohol affect the brain?

The effects of alcohol on the brain can appear in multiple ways, some of which can be long-term. It is a depressant, which slows down certain nervous system functions, including how messages are transmitted between brain cells. It also increases the release of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which can alter a person’s mood and leave them feeling euphoric or relaxed.

“How does alcohol affect the brain?” is a question we all ask ourselves but never take too seriously. However, too much alcohol over an extended period of time can have serious adverse effects on things such as memory and cognition, reducing one’s ability to learn new information and keep focused. Having more than two drinks per day may even increase one’s risk of developing dementia and other forms of mental decline.

All in all, when looking at the effects of alcohol on the brain, the answer is not one size fits all. At Claimont, many of our clients that we’ve aided in recovery through our live in care, home visits and home detox services have experienced varying side effects to overconsumption of alcohol. 

How someone reacts to drinking depends mainly on how frequently they consume alcohol, how much they drink at once, their age and other lifestyle factors. The overall effects of alcohol on the brain are dependent on various factors and drinking regularity.

Short-term effects of alcohol on cognitive and motor functions

Alcohol is known to be a depressant and has been linked to impairing users’ cognitive and motor functions both in the short term and in the long term.

Regarding acute effects, alcohol can negatively impact judgement, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. Experiencing these deficits within minutes after drinking typically causes an individual to become more vulnerable to injury or death due to impaired motor skills.

It also becomes more difficult for alcohol users to recall memories created during an intoxicated state due to its sedating effects on short-term memory. Therefore, anyone who is considering drinking should be aware of the potential dangers associated with impairment caused by overconsumption of alcohol.

Alcohol and the brain: its effects on cognitive development

Long-term alcohol consumption has serious implications for the development of the brain. Research has found that alcohol exposure in teenagers and young adults can significantly alter the trajectory of neurological growth and development in areas such as memory, coordination, movement control and emotional regulation.

What parts of the brain does alcohol affect? 

In particular, heavy exposure to alcohol early on can lead to reduced volume of certain brain structures, such as the hippocampus, which is key for forming long-term memories. 

Additionally, chronic drinking may put individuals at risk for a variety of neurological disorders throughout their life, such as anxiety, drug dependency and dementia.

It is, therefore, critical that young people are educated about not just the immediate risks of drinking but also the long-term effects on brain development and the link between alcohol and memory.

How does alcohol affect memory?

When looking at alcohol and the brain and its effect on memory, it has been shown to have a negative impact. It causes less disruption of recall of previously established long–term memories or of the ability to keep new information active in short–term memory for a few seconds or more. With alcohol and memory, the impact on the frontal lobes still remains poorly understood, but it probably plays an important role in alcohol–induced memory impairments.

Alcohol’s impact on the brain: decision-making and emotions

Alcohol has also been found to lead to greater difficulty in inhibiting impulsive behaviour. Alcohol-induced changes in mood can also impede the ability to make judicious decisions under pressure or stress. In some instances, these reductions in self-control may even lead to engaging in risky behaviours than the individual would normally partake in.

This is a problem that everyone should take seriously and understand the potential neurological effects of excessive drinking. Even social drinkers should ensure that they are aware of how much they are consuming in order to avoid any negative impacts.

Overall, when looking at the question of ‘how does alcohol affect the brain?’, each individual is different and will likely respond differently.

Strategies for reducing or avoiding drinking alcohol

Reducing or avoiding drinking alcohol is important in developing healthier lifestyle habits. One of the best strategies for doing so is to set personal goals.

This includes both long-term goals, such as reducing your weekly alcohol intake by a certain amount or cutting out certain drinks entirely, as well as short-term goals, like stopping after having just one drink or limiting oneself to a certain number per week. Additionally, it can help to stay committed by tracking your progress in a journal.

Keeping track of drinking habits can provide helpful insight into how you’re doing and can be motivating when reflecting on how far you’ve come. Finally, engaging in healthy alternatives like exercise or attending social events that don’t involve alcohol is essential for successfully managing a reduced drinking lifestyle. 

How to get help if you’re struggling with excessive drinking

If you’re struggling with excessive drinking, it is important that you get help. Talking to a mental health professional can be beneficial in providing advice and guidance.

Seeking support from organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous or other organisations dedicated to helping people recover from alcohol abuse can also provide helpful resources and assistance with recovery. At Claimont, we provide bespoke services to help you or a loved one deal with alcohol-related problems. Whether you’re in search of an in-person meeting for your recovery or require something more flexible, such as online psychiatry, we’re flexible. 

You may also find that joining a support group, online forum, or community of peers going through similar issues will give you the strength to make healthy changes. If necessary, explore inpatient treatment programs for more intensive care and the potential for psychiatric medications and clinical therapy.

Above all else, don’t be afraid to seek help if you are struggling with excessive drinking or are concerned about the effects of alcohol on the brain. Many resources are available to support you on your journey towards sobriety and improved mental health.

It’s important to understand the implications of drinking and how alcohol affects the brain in order to make an informed decision about how much alcohol you choose to consume. Ultimately, alcohol has short- and long-term effects on cognitive functions, including decision-making and emotions. However, it is possible to reduce or avoid drinking entirely.

If you are concerned about your drinking habits or those of a loved one, there are resources available to ensure that proper treatment is provided and preventive measures taken for those at risk of developing a dependency. We urge anyone struggling with excessive drinking to seek professional help so that the most effective interventions may be employed for a healthier brain and life.

We’re here to help

At Claimont, we provide a range of services to help you or a loved one begin the journey to recovery from excessive alcohol. If you have any questions or would like more information, please get in touch with our specialist team on 020 3941 2000.