It’s not unusual to have a drink after work, sip some wine at dinner, or have a beer while you watch the game on the weekend. Many people enjoy this and don’t think twice about it. Although drinking in moderation is not usually a cause of concern, drinking can quickly become a daily habit. Drinking every day can have serious health consequences, including damage to the brain. When drinking becomes a daily habit, there’s cause for concern. Here’s how daily alcohol consumption can affect your brain.
Daily Alcohol Consumption
Drinking alcohol daily can impact your physical and mental health. Consuming alcohol influences the brain’s processes.
As soon as you take a drink, your liver goes to work trying to break down the alcohol. An enzyme in your body called alcohol dehydrogenase helps to break the alcohol down to acetaldehyde and then further to acetic acid.
You feel the effects or feel “drunk” when you consume alcohol faster than you break it down.
Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the brain processes. Someone who’s drunk may show visible symptoms including:
- Slurred speech
- Loss of inhibition
- Loss of coordination
- Passing out
These side effects are all due to the alcohol’s effect on the brain. When you’re under the influence of alcohol, your brain cells communicate at a slower rate.
Reward vs. Reality
Initially, with the first drink, you may feel a euphoric effect as dopamine releases from the reward center of your brain. Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that’s associated with pleasure and is thought to play a role in addiction.
Serotonin, another “feel good” neurotransmitter also may play a role.
The limbic system is also affected by alcohol use. It plays a role in emotional response. Alcohol slows the function of the limbic system which results in the loss of inhibition.
An inebriated person may stumble or have difficulty walking straight. This is due to alcohol’s effect on the cerebellum which controls coordination. This part of the brain is highly sensitive to alcohol.
Alcohol affects the reticular activating system in the brainstem which controls consciousness. Alcohol dampens this area of the brain, and the side effects can include sleepiness and passing out.
What Is a Hangover?
A hangover may occur during and after consuming too much alcohol. The feeling of a hangover is thought to be the result of the toxicity of acetaldehyde in the body along with low blood sugar and changes in electrolyte balance.
The most common symptoms of a hangover include:
- Feeling tired or sluggish
Drinking and Neurological Issues
Drinking on an everyday basis can lead to neurological issues. Alcohol is a neurotoxin. It disrupts communication in the brain and affects the functions of brain cells.
Drinking too much can cause organ dysfunction and vitamin deficiency. It can lead to stroke, seizures, dementia, and other conditions.
Alcohol is toxic to an unborn baby’s brain and can cause developmental disorders and birth defects.
Daily overuse of alcohol can have short-term and long-term effects on the brain. This is especially true for adolescents because their brains aren’t yet fully developed.
Factors for Alcohol’s Effect on the Brain
Several factors can affect the impact alcohol has on a person’s brain. These include:
- The frequency someone drinks
- A person’s genetic background and family history of alcohol use
- A person’s overall health status
- Gender (females are more vulnerable to alcohol’s detrimental effects)
- Prenatal alcohol exposure
Prenatal exposure can lead to a host of problems called fetal alcohol syndrome. This may include problems with intellectual functioning, verbal skills, memory, social functioning, and motor skills.
Some deficits may worsen as these individuals reach adolescence and adulthood. Prenatal exposure is associated with a higher risk of mental health problems as well.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
Short-term effects on the brain during intoxication include:
- Decreased judgment
- Loss of coordination
- Problems with reasoning
- Decreased short-term memory
Although these are often temporary issues associated with alcohol use, continued daily use can lead to more significant long-term problems.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
The long-term effects of the overuse of alcohol go way beyond the feelings associated with being “drunk.” These include:
- Changes in neurotransmitter activity
- Structural abnormalities
- Risk of stroke
- Memory loss
- Poor retention levels
- Brain shrinkage
- Dementia or Korsakoff syndrome
- Poor circulation to the brain
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Poor impulse control
- Change in mood or personality
Even small amounts of alcohol consumed habitually can cause brain shrinkage. This may be due to the dehydrating effect alcohol has on the body and the brain.
Some damage to the brain can be reversed or improved when the drinking stops.
Does Alcohol Destroy Brain Cells?
Alcohol does kill brain cells, although some cells can regenerate over time. Alcohol is an irritant to the body and can damage the brain in many ways.
Alcohol abuse can damage the ends of the neurons in the brain, making it difficult for the neurons to send signals. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to short-term and long-term memory loss and early-onset dementia.
Chronic alcohol use can also increase the risk of an accident that could lead to a traumatic brain injury. This type of injury is common in alcohol-related accidents and can lead to long-term cognitive issues and disability.
Alcohol and Brain Chemistry
Your brain relies on a balance of processes and chemicals. Alcohol is a depressant that can disrupt that balance and affect feelings, thoughts, actions, and mental health.
In the early days of drinking, a chemical change occurs that makes people feel more relaxed, less anxious, and even more confident. But those feelings are short-lived.
The more you drink, the more impact it has on your brain. Negative emotions will begin to take over.
Overconsumption can lead to feelings of anger, aggression, anxiousness, and depression.
If you need help with alcohol addiction, there is hope. With the right treatment, you can beat your addiction and live a happier, healthier life.
Alcohol and Anxiety
If you struggle with anxiety, you may think a drink can help you feel more at ease. This may be true at first, but things can change quickly.
The “relaxed” effect of alcohol is due to the chemical changes alcohol has on the brain. This effect wears off, and you are left to face those feelings or mask them with more alcohol.
This can lead to increased levels of anxiety and increasing dependence on alcohol as the solution. Over time, you may feel the need to drink more to achieve the same effect.
This daily pattern can quickly escalate and lead to alcohol dependence. Daily alcohol use may lead to a wide range of mental symptoms associated with anxiety. These include:
- Sleep disorders
- Antisocial behaviors
Chronic alcohol use can be a factor in the development of mental health conditions. It may worsen an existing psychiatric condition, including anxiety disorders and depressive disorders.
If you struggle with alcohol addiction and a mental health condition, you may need treatment for co-occurring disorders. Fortunately, treatment is available to address these conditions simultaneously.
Drinking and Depression
Drinking regularly and heavily is associated with feelings of depression. It’s sometimes difficult to separate the cause and effect, but the two often go hand-in-hand.
Alcohol affects the nerve-chemical systems of the body which play a huge role in regulating mood. Studies show that depression is a common byproduct of excessive drinking. Reducing or stopping alcohol consumption can improve mood.
Anti-depressant medication should not be mixed with alcohol. Some anti-depressants may increase the risk of relapse for those with alcohol addiction.
Anti-depressants should only be taken as prescribed by your doctor. If you are dealing with alcohol dependence and depression, it’s important to seek help from your doctor or an alcohol treatment center.
Alcohol and Suicide
Chronic drinking can lead to a loss of inhibitions and an increase in impulsive behavior. This can lead someone to try things or take actions they would never have considered otherwise.
There’s a strong association between chronic alcohol consumption and suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and dying by suicide. Over time, extreme levels of drinking can lead to psychosis, a severe mental illness involving delusions, hallucinations, and irrational fears.
Psychosis can be triggered by acute intoxication and withdrawal. It’s more common among chronic drinkers who suddenly stop drinking alcohol.
This syndrome can occur in individuals with a chronic drinking problem. Excessive use of alcohol may lower Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) levels.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is also known as “wet brain,” may result.
Symptoms include confusion, abnormal eye movements, vision changes, and loss of coordination. This syndrome is a psychosis that, left untreated, may lead to death.
If you have an alcohol dependency, seek professional help. Abrupt withdrawal from alcohol without intervention can cause seizures and other health concerns.
The Teen Brain and Alcohol Use
Teenagers’ brains are more vulnerable to developing an addiction to alcohol. Teens have a greater risk of life-long problems due to alcoholism than adults.
Problems such as memory loss, impulse control, information retention, and even blackouts are more likely to affect adolescent drinkers. Balance issues and gait problems are more likely to become permanent problems with young drinkers.
Teenage alcohol addiction is harder to treat, and teens are more likely than adults to relapse following treatment. The teenage brain isn’t fully developed, and teens are vulnerable to permanent brain damage due to excessive alcohol consumption.
The sooner a teen seeks treatment for alcohol addiction, the better the chances for a full recovery.
Alcohol Use Disorder
Chronic alcohol users may become dependent on alcohol to cope and get through the day. This often leads to alcohol use disorder (AUD). Signs of AUD include:
- Spending time worrying about obtaining alcohol
- Drinking in situations you should not
- Drinking when it could lead to a dangerous situation
- Craving alcohol
- Drinking so much it negatively affects your job or relationships
- Using more and more alcohol over time
When to Get Help
No matter how long you’ve been struggling with drinking, you can get help. Right now is the best time to face this problem.
Many of the negative effects of alcohol abuse are reversible, or some improvement may be possible. The first step toward better health is to quit drinking.
Alcoholism isn’t a personal failing. You aren’t alone. Over two million people seek help for alcohol addiction in the United States each year.
Quitting alcohol requires a combination of medical care and mental health support. Going to an inpatient rehab or treatment center offers the best chance for success.
The right treatment environment along with the avoidance of people and places that could trigger drinking can make a huge difference when the goal is sobriety and a healthier lifestyle.
You may have tried quitting on your own and failed. But with the right support system around you, achieving sobriety may feel more manageable.
Finding the Right Treatment
Daily alcohol consumption can have serious consequences on your physical and mental health. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, there is hope. You can regain control of your life and your future.
Battling addiction is never easy. It takes a great amount of hope, determination, and support to recover and move on to a happier, healthier life.
Brighter days are possible. The first step is to find the right treatment to meet your needs. We can help!
Contact Beat Addiction today to learn about our treatment program.