Most Americans drink, with roughly one-third drinking at least one drink daily. But, unfortunately, the pervasiveness of alcohol in social life obscures a key fact: alcohol is a drug and a potentially fatal one at that. In reality, alcohol is responsible for 2.6 percent of all deaths in the United States annually.
While moderate alcohol use may have certain health benefits, binge drinking or excessive drinking can affect your brain. In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the impact of alcohol on the nervous system.
Understanding the Nervous System
The nervous system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that coordinate and control the body’s responses to internal and external stimuli. It consists of the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).
The central nervous system (CNS) comprises neurons and neurotransmitters. They are involved in many of the body’s functions, including sensory perception, movement, learning, and memory. Neurons are cells that are responsible for transmitting information throughout the nervous system. They are specialized cells that are capable of receiving and transmitting chemical and electrical signals.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are released by neurons and bind to receptors on other neurons or cells in the body. They are involved in the transmission of signals between neurons and play a crucial role in the communication between cells in the nervous system.
The peripheral nervous system (PNS) comprises all the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. It connects the CNS to the rest of the body, transmitting messages to and from the brain and spinal cord and coordinating the body’s movements and functions. The PNS is further divided into autonomic and somatic nervous systems.
The somatic nervous system is responsible for controlling voluntary movements and sensations, such as walking and touching. The autonomic nervous system, on the other hand, controls involuntary functions like digestion, heart rate, and respiration. It is further divided into the sympathetic nervous system, which helps the body respond to stress and arousal, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and restoration.
Overall, the nervous system plays a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis. It helps the body respond to environmental changes and coordinate all of its functions and movements.
What Effect Does Alcohol Have on the Nervous System?
Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which slows down brain activity and can cause sedation. When consumed, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the brain, disrupting the normal communication between nerve cells. Some short-term effects of alcohol fade quickly as the alcohol breaks down and is eliminated from the body. However, long-term alcohol addiction can have a variety of direct and indirect deleterious consequences.
The liver disease might result in nervous system issues. Diseases of the neurological system may eventually necessitate the hiring of a caregiver. There’s also the reality that alcoholics frequently prefer drinking to eating. Poor nutrition contributes to further brain and organ damage.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Nervous System
Alcohol intoxication is caused by short-term effects on the CNS, with symptoms that vary greatly depending on how frequently someone drinks, how much alcohol they take, their weight, and their particular physical makeup. Alcohol intoxication symptoms, such as physical impairment and minor cognitive, may appear after one or two drinks. Still, heavy consumption can result in an alcohol overdose if you consume too much alcohol in one session.
Alcohol’s immediate effects on the brain are caused by its impact on the information-processing pathways and organ communication. Unfortunately, drinking too quickly or too much can have serious negative impacts on your mental health, including poor motor coordination, disorientation, and decreased decision-making ability.
Continuing drinking after recognizing these signs can lead to alcohol overdose, also called alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is a hazardous and sometimes fatal side effect of consuming too much alcohol quickly. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning may include:
- Difficulties staying awake
- In the worst-case scenario, death
- Permanent interruption or impairment of cognition
- Reduced heart rate
- Suppression of respiration
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the CNS
Those who drink more heavily are more likely to have alcohol-related issues, especially if they drink excessively over an extended length of time. Long-term health concerns associated with chronic alcohol consumption include heart, liver, and stomach difficulties, cancer, immune system weakness, mood and sleep abnormalities, and the development of other mental health problems such as sadness and anxiety.
Those who consume alcohol excessively and for extended periods also risk thiamine deficiency due to poor diet. This may lead to the development of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS). This disorder, also referred to as “wet brain,” can produce prolonged mental disorientation, eye movement irregularities, coordination difficulties, and learning and memory impairments.
Lastly, long-term alcohol consumption can also result in the development of an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which can also be referred to as having an “alcohol addiction.” An AUD is a compulsive, harmful pattern of alcohol consumption that continues despite severe repercussions to a person’s health, personal relationships, and employment. A person must satisfy at least two of the following criteria within 12 months for a mental health practitioner to diagnose them with AUD:
- Avoid activities you used to enjoy so you can drink.
- Consuming more frequent amounts of alcohol than intended.
- Cravings for alcoholic beverages.
- Drinking despite family and relationship problems induced by alcohol usage.
- Drinking despite harmful physical or mental health repercussions.
- Drinking in potentially hazardous situations
- Having withdrawal symptoms as you try to quit drinking.
- Inability to perform duties at work, home, or school due to alcohol usage.
- Inability to reduce alcohol use.
- Investing significant time in attempting to obtain alcohol.
- Tolerance, or the need for more alcohol to attain earlier effects.
It’s never too late to change your life, no matter how bad things seem. So reach out for assistance today and get the attention you require. You may reclaim your life and avoid or reduce many of the problems associated with alcohol addiction by seeking help. Also, if you are trying to cut back on alcohol or you’ve quit drinking, some supplements like BioRebalance Restore can help you beat cravings and heal your body.
Dr. Rebeca Eriksen, PhD MSc BSc (Hons) RD, is the Co-Founder at BioRebalance. She has a PhD in Nutritional Genetics from Imperial College London, and over ten years of clinical experience designing custom nutritional repair regimens for patients recovering from alcohol addiction and other disorders.