“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald,
The Great Gatsby
You must have already guessed what will be today’s article be based on the quote itself. So, let’s not waste time and learn about the undeniable facts about alcohol.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
The effects of alcohol on the brain are associated with the blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Usually, it is noted that alcohol depresses brain functions, initially by inhibiting the reticular activating system (RAS), which regulates the front part of the brain, the cerebral cortex. As a result, intellectual facilities are diminished. As the cerebral cortex regulation is disrupted, its roles in inhibiting other areas and integrating sensory and motor control are reduced. This leads to loss of coordination, judgment and control over fine movement. With increasing BAC, other centers of the brain are affected and so too are behavior and mental abilities. These changes severely affect the ability to walk, cycle or drive.
Long Terms Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
The long-term deterioration of the brain in people who misuse alcohol is mainly due to brain cells’ shrinkage by alcohol-induced dehydration. Alcohol inhibits the release of the hormone ADH, so the kidneys remove more water than they would normally. Cells are also damaged by the shortage of oxygen (hypoxia) and the low blood sugar concentrations which are associated with long-term alcohol misuse. Nerve cells rely, almost exclusively, on blood glucose for their energy. The main loss of cells occurs in the frontal cortex. Blood clots often block capillaries in the brain.
Alcohol damage to the brain may be acute or chronic. In both cases, the symptoms are similar: there is loss of short-term memory loss and loss of intellectual functions such as calculation, comprehension and learning new tasks. Sleep is also often disturbed with a reduction of the important rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and more waking periods in the middle of the night.
Neglect of diet can lead to a deficiency in vitamin B, which leads to long-term degenerative changes in the brain. The two syndromes involved are:
- Korsakoff’s psychosis: loss of memory, inability to learn new material, confusion, dementia.
- Wernicke’s encephalopathy: confusion, disturbance of speech and walking, coma.
Effects of Alcohol on the Peripheral Nervous System
Another consequence of vitamin B deficiency is the degeneration of nerves in the peripheral nervous system – the pathways outside the brain and spinal cord. The myelin sheaths surrounding nerves are not maintained and become less efficient. Loss of nerve function causes a loss of sensory awareness in hands and feet and some difficulty in movement. There are feelings of pain, cramps, numbness, tingling and weakness. This is known as polyneuropathy.
Social Consequences of Alcohol Misuse
Alcohol misuse is a factor in crime, family disputes, marital breakdown, child neglect and abuse, absenteeism from work, vandalism, physical assault and petty crime. Problems are particularly serious amongst the immediate family of someone who is dependent on alcohol: furtiveness, secrecy and a concern with money come to dominate family relationships. Supplies of alcohol are hidden and securing supplies becomes an over-riding need.
Personality traits in people who are dependent on alcohol include:
- Uncontrolled Anger
- Frequent changes of job
- Changes of drinking habit
- Neglect of food intake
- Neglect of personal appearance
- Aggressive behavior
- Grandiose behavior
It is indeed true that families of people who misuse alcohol may suffer as much as, or more than, the individuals themselves.
For instance, between 20 and 30 % of inter-family violence or sexual abuse are quoted as being linked to alcohol. Another example is how in 1990, a worldwide on domestic violence carried out by an American University found out that alcohol is a contributory factor to aggressive behavior. Alcohol is also often associated with unemployment, homelessness and psychiatric illness.
However, despite all the clear evidences of the negative impacts of alcohol on both the individual and the society, many won’t stop swooning over alcohol. What do you think? Please share your comments!