Itâ€™s no secret that alcohol has numerous effects on your brain â€“ beyond creating the illusion that you are the most interesting and attractive person (and the best dancer) in the room. Whether you drink a little or a lot, alcohol has profound effects on different parts of your brain.
The more you drink, the more obvious the effects become, ranging from a slight sense of relaxation and happiness (a buzz) to stupor, coma and death when blood alcohol content reaches a level of .50 or higher. Letâ€™s take a look at how alcohol affects each part of your brain and, subsequently, your behavior and bodily functions.
Alcohol and the Nervous System
When you have a drink, the alcohol affects your central nervous system more than any other organs or tissues. The alcohol changes the way your nerve cells interact with all the other cells in your body. Because alcohol is a sedative, it inhibits the excitatory nerve cells, making you appear sluggish, slur your words or act â€œdrunk.â€ At the same time, alcohol causes an increase in the inhibitory nerve pathways of the brain, causing even more sluggishness.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain
Drinking alcohol affects every part of the human brain. The amount of alcohol you drink determines the severity of the effects; the more you consume, the more you affect the various regions of the brain. Alcohol affects the brain in the same order in every person: starting with the cerebral cortex or outer layer of the brain, then the limbic system, the cerebellum, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland and finally, the brain stem.
[box type=”note”]As blood alcohol content increases and affects the different areas of the brain, you become more visibly intoxicated, and the possibility of serious illness or death increases.[/box]
The cerebral cortex is the highest order region of your brain â€“ it controls your speech and thought processes, interprets the information from your senses and controls most of your voluntary responses. Drinking interferes with the cells in this part of the brain, reducing your inhibitions and making you more talkative and outgoing. At the same time, though, it dulls your senses, and your ability to make good decisions decreases substantially.
Made up of the hippocampus and the septal area, the limbic system is the part of the brain that controls your emotions and memory. When you drink enough to affect this area, you might experience extreme emotions â€“ sometimes switching wildly between conflicting emotions â€“ and have trouble remembering things.
The cerebellum is the region of the brain that controls movement, both voluntary muscle movements like walking and involuntary muscle movements that affect your balance. Someone who has enough to drink to affect this part of the brain is often called â€œfalling down drunkâ€ and has trouble completing even simple movements. Those who have consumed enough alcohol to affect the cerebellum will fail common sobriety tests like touching the nose with one finger or walking a straight line.
Hypothalamus and Pituitary Gland
Youâ€™ve probably heard that alcohol dehydrates you â€“ and can affect you sexually. Thatâ€™s thanks to these two centers of the brain. The hypothalamus affects sexual arousal and performance, but when you add alcohol, the results can be disappointing. Alcohol depresses the functions of the hypothalamus, hampering your ability to perform. When alcohol reaches the pituitary gland, it signals your kidneys to excrete more water, making you have to urinate more. The more you pee, the more dehydrated you get.
The medulla, or brain stem, controls everything your body does without you thinking about it â€“ breathing, heart rate, circulation, etc.Â As your blood alcohol level increases, it begins to affect your medulla, making you feel sleepy. If the BAC is high enough, youâ€™ll â€œpass out,â€ or even lose consciousness. If your blood alcohol content gets too high, it will affect your heart rate, breathing and body temperature â€“ a potentially fatal condition.
Other Effects of Alcohol
While alcohol affects the brain the most, drinking can cause problems with other parts of the body as well. For example, it irritates the lining of the stomach, causing vomiting, and it increases blood flow to the skin, causing you to look flushed or sweaty when you drink too much.
[box type=”important”]When you enjoy a drink with a meal or at a party, the effects of the alcohol on your body will be minimal in most cases. You might feel slightly more relaxed and happy from the alcoholâ€™s effects on the cerebral cortex, or you might not feel anything at all. As your consumption increases, though, so do the effects on your brain, and the more you drink, the more harm you potentially cause to your body and its ability to function.[/box]
This guest post article was written and provided by Gregg Gustafson who is a freelance writer and consultant for Drug-Rehab.org. Gustafson works with individuals who suffer from alcohol and drug abuse, in turn referring them to some of the most prestige alcohol addiction centers active today.