Understanding Alcoholism Effects on the Brain

Attempting to figure out what alcoholism effects on the brain can be overwhelming, but learning can help make sure you get the help you may need.

Alcoholism Effects on the Brain

Alcohol is one of the most popular used psychoactive substances in the world. It is a toxic substance that serves as a depressant due to its effects on the brain and body. When ingested, alcoholism effects on the brain changes a person’s mood, brain, concentration, and coordination.

The active ingredient in alcoholic beverages is a simple molecule known as ethanol. It influences cholesterol, insulin levels, inflammation, and coagulation. It can be dangerous to consume too much alcohol both over a long period of time and within a single sitting.

Alcoholism Effects On The Brain

Common Effects of Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol affects almost everyone who has a sip, and the amount of alcohol ingested determines the effect it has. Alcoholism effects on the brain can be both short-term and long-term. Here are some of the most common effects of drinking alcohol:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Mood changes
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Blackouts
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Headaches
  • Long-term health effects, like liver damage and heart disease
  • Overdose

Is Alcohol Addictive?

Alcohol can be addictive. Alcohol is a toxic substance with dependence-producing properties. When consumed, alcohol can activate the brain’s reward system. The pleasurable feeling of alcohol may motivate a person to continue drinking. It also makes them dependent on alcohol despite the alcoholism effects on the brain.1

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2020 estimated that approximately 14.5 million adults had an alcohol use disorder. This accounts for 5.5% of the adult population.2

Causes and Risk Factors for Alcoholism

Alcoholism has several causes and risk factors that may lead someone to developing a dependence. Here are some of the most common causes and risk factors of alcoholism:3

  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors:
  • Mental health conditions
  • Physical and mental stress
  • Drinking at an early age

Just because someone exhibits some of these risk factors does not mean that they will develop an alcohol use disorder, but it does mean that they should be more careful while consuming the beverage.

Signs and Symptoms Associated with Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a severe medical condition characterized by physical, psychological, and social symptoms. Alcoholism symptoms can differ from person to person, and not everyone who drinks alcohol meets the diagnostic criteria for AUD.

Many people may exhibit unhealthy habits with alcohol but do not meet the diagnostic criteria either. It’s important to meet with a medical professional if you or a loved one may show any of the below signs and symptoms.

Common Indications of Alcoholism

The following are common signs and symptoms of alcoholism:4

  • Requiring increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired results
  • Tremors, sweating, nausea, and anxiety as a result of alcohol withdrawal
  • Consuming a large amount of alcohol
  • Ineffective attempts to reduce or control drinking
  • Drinking despite harmful consequences to one’s health, job, or relationship
  • Strong and recurring desires or urges to consume alcohol
  • Spending a significant amount of time thinking about alcohol or deciding when and where to drink
  • Using alcohol to deal with stress, anxiety, or depression

Alcoholism Effects on the Brain: What You Need to Know

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that affects the brain and nervous system. After consumption, alcohol enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain, which may slow down neurons. This causes the brain to experience difficulties controlling balance, memory, or speech.5

Research has shown that adolescents are more susceptible to alcoholism effects on the brain than adults. Thus, misuse of alcohol at a young age may alter brain development and function.

Short-Term Effects

The alcoholism effects on the brain may be short-term or long-term, depending on the level and frequency of use. The short-term alcoholism effects on the brain include:6

  • Disruption of communication between brain cells
  • Changes in mood and concentration
  • Difficulty with memory recollection 
  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Fluctuation in energy levels
  • Vomiting
  • Impaired judgment

Long-Term Effects

Long-term alcoholism effects on the brain can be severe and irreversible. These effects may interfere with brain functioning or even cause brain damage. Here are some long-term effects on the brain:7

  • Brain damage
  • Increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which causes memory loss, hallucinations, and poor judgment 
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Cognitive impairment 
  • Psychiatric disorders

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens (DT) is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal. It can happen when a person with an alcohol use disorder stops or reduces their alcohol consumption. About 50% of people with an alcohol addiction will experience withdrawal symptoms. DT only affects people with a history of excessive drinking. Some reasons why a person may develop DT include:8

  • Sudden alcohol withdrawal
  • A history of delirium tremens during previous alcohol withdrawals
  • History of chronic alcohol abuse
  • Malnutrition when reducing alcohol use
  • A history of head injury or brain damage
  • Liver disease

Treatment Options for Delirium Tremens

DT requires immediate treatment in a hospital, as this is one of the more dangerous of the side effects. Treatment involves a combination of medications and supportive care to prevent complications, such as:

  • Medications: Benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, and beta-blockers are medications used to treat DT. These medications can help to treat anxiety, prevent seizures, and control hallucinations. It also helps to reduce heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Supportive care in hospitals: Hospitals may provide nutritional support to correct malnutrition and vitamin deficiency that may worsen DT. At Essence Healthcare, we also provide counseling and therapy to address any underlying mental health issues that may contribute to alcohol abuse.

In severe cases of DT, hospitalization in an intensive care unit (ICU) to provide close monitoring may be advised.

Alcoholism Effects On The Brain

Self-Care Tips to Manage Alcoholism

Managing alcoholism effects on the brain is a complex process that often requires professional help and support. However, some self-care tips can help manage alcoholism, such as:

  • Recognizing and acknowledging there is a problem
  • Setting achievable goals to manage alcoholism 
  • Avoiding stressful situations
  • Seeking support from family and friends 
  • Avoiding risks associated with drinking
  • Practicing healthy habits

Get Treatment for Alcoholism at Essence Healthcare

The alcoholism effects on the brain can be detrimental to overall health, which can affect decision-making and impulse control as well. Alcoholism can lead to depression, anxiety, and mood swings.

The alcoholism effects on the brain require treatment. These treatments involve a combination of medication, therapy, and support groups. Medications may include drugs that help reduce cravings or manage withdrawal symptoms. Therapy may include cognitive-behavioral therapy to help individuals identify and change unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns. 

Reach Out and Begin Healing

You or a loved one can get the support and care you need at Essence Healthcare. Your recovery is our priority, and we have all the facilities to help you recover from alcoholism. Contact us today to create a personalized treatment plan that will address any symptoms you may have.

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Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.