Understand how alcohol consumption affects the human brain

An expert explains how this substance alters brain activity and the well-being of the body

Excessive alcohol consumption can affect the nervous system Image: ESB Professional | Shutterstock

Despite the many advertisements that inform about the effects of alcohol on the body, this substance is still part of the lives of many people. Consumed in moderation, the effect of the drink on the body can even be reduced; however, the resulting big problem is overconsumption.

Overuse of intake is often common and can lead to serious health problems, especially in the brain region. “Just two small doses of alcohol can cause changes in the areas of the brain responsible for processing information,” says Dr. Fernando Gomes, neurosurgeon and neuroscientist at Hospital das Clínicas de SP.

Next, the doctor explains how alcohol can affect brain activity and its consequences on the body. Look!

Why does alcohol affect the brain?

The ingestion of alcoholic beverages directly affects neurotransmitters in the brain. This causes them to be released in different amounts than normal and to increase gamma-aminobutyric acid, which causes disinhibition, and dopamine, which gives a feeling of euphoria after the first few doses.

This damage occurs because when ethyl alcohol, found in alcoholic beverages, enters the body, one of the effects is that brain cells are damaged and some die. This is because it is a water-soluble substance that accumulates in critical volumes in the organs where the blood is most abundant. And the brain is part of it.

Alcohol impairs logical thinking and speech (Image: Africa Studio | Shutterstock)

Consequences of the substance on the organ

The cerebral cortex is the area responsible for all thought, information and consciousness processes. “The accumulated damage caused by alcohol in this part interferes with rational logical thinking and the normal development of speech,” warns Dr. Ferdinand. He also explains that there is damage to the way he walks, due to impairments suffered in the area of ​​motor coordination and inhibitory control – an area popularly known as “judgment”.

Other body damage

In high doses, when alcohol affects the spinal cord (part of the brainstem that regulates breathing and circulation), there is a risk of blockage of breathing. However, most of the time, before this happens, drowsiness sets in and many people feel sleepy after drinking; so (and also fortunately) they end up not going into an alcoholic coma. After that comes the dreaded hangover. It is the body’s response to the revelry that has occurred in the metabolism. This is where the body undergoes a series of biological changes. The result is a typical set of poisoning symptoms.

The physiological explanation for this process is as follows: to metabolize excess alcohol, body ends up overloading all the organs involved in the process, especially the liver, since this is where the enzymes to metabolize ethanol are produced. During excessive alcohol consumption, this organ also “absorbs” the idea that it needs to work “drunk” and ends up asking for more alcohol, because it enters a withdrawal crisis. The results are headaches, dehydration, nausea, diarrhea and extreme fatigue.

Effect of alcohol on brain aging

Each gram of alcohol consumed causes premature aging of the brain by a day and a half, according to a study published on January 30 in Scientific Reports, carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC). Scientists used structural data from MRI scans of more than 12,000 people to calculate the brain age predicts of those who habitually ingest alcohol, relative to relative brain age.

The results also showed years less gray matter due to signs of organ deterioration. And despite the findings, scientists have concluded that other factors can also lead to accelerated aging, such as genetics and lifestyle.

By Mayra Barreto Cinel

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