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Long Term Effects of Alcoholism on the Brain

Understanding Alcohol Related Brain Damage

Alcohol is a toxin to the body, and therefore, its presence in the body does harm. Binge drinking more than five times a month, or continuous heavy drinking (one drink per day in women or two per day in men) can lead to serious consequences. The exact repercussions of alcohol abuse vary from person to person, depending on factors like:

  • How long you have been drinking
  • You age when you started drinking
  • Your current age
  • Your overall health
  • Gender
  • Genetics
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • How much and how frequently do you drink alcohol

Short-term effects of drinking alcohol include impairment in judgment and thinking, difficulty walking, slowed reaction time, and compromised memory, but long-term effects of alcoholism on the brain can be much more serious, leading to permanent damage to the brain and nervous system.

How Alcoholic Brain Damage Develops

When you drink alcohol, it enters the bloodstream through the stomach and intestines and is brought to the liver, amongst other organs. The liver can only handle so much alcohol at one time, and so excess alcohol continues circulating in your system, eventually moving through the blood-brain barrier, directly into the neurons inside the brain. Once in the brain, alcohol can:

  • damage or even kill important brain neurons
  • slow down signals that are sent between neurons
  • impair automatic brain functions in the cerebellum and cerebral cortex like breathing, balance and processing new information
  • slow down GABA neurotransmitters, causing slowed reaction time and slurred speech
  • damage the hippocampus region because of “blackouts” can cause short-term memory loss and brain cell death; repeated blackouts cause permanent damage so you cannot retain new memories

Alcohol also releases glutamate transmitters that regulate dopamine release, causing drinking to make some people feel “warm and fuzzy”, and you won’t feel the damage happening until serious side effects show up later.

Alcohol Related Brain Disorders

Some of the common alcohol-related brain disorders are:

  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) – sometimes called “wet brain”, this is a disorder that consists of two forms of dementia. Many people addicted to alcohol will not maintain a healthy diet and become deficient in thiamine, which is made worse because alcohol affects the body’s ability to absorb the vitamin. WKS begins by the development of Wernike’s encephalopathy, and then are later diagnosed with Korsakoff’s encephalopathy. Symptoms of WKS include:
  • Confusion
  • Paralysis of the muscles in the eye
  • Forgetfulness
  • Problems with muscle coordination
  • Impaired learning abilities
  • Injuries from Falls and Fights – people who drink heavily are more likely to fall, get into fights or act unpredictably, resulting in a much higher percentage of traumatic brain injuries than the general population
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy – after years of drinking, the liver becomes inflamed, resulting in alcoholic hepatitis. This dysfunctional liver will send unfiltered blood to the brain, causing a buildup of toxins in the brain. Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy include:
  • Short attention span
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Shaky hands and problems with coordination
  • Altered mood and/or personality
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) –people should not drink any alcohol while pregnant, as there is no safe amount of consumption. The fetus is unable to process alcohol properly, resulting in miscarriage, stillbirth, and developmental disorders that may include:
  • Poor vision or hearing
  • Heart, kidney, and bone disorders
  • Small head size
  • Distinct facial features
  • Shorter than average height
  • Lower than average weight
  • Hyperactivity
  • Low IQ
  • Sleep and sucking problems during infancy

Can Alcoholic Brain Damage Be Treated?

Alcoholic brain damage is a serious issue in many people, and unfortunately, there are no known cures. Some treatments include:

  • Thiamine and vitamin supplements for those with WKS to improve brain function
  • Diagnosing alcohol-related dementia, hepatic encephalopathy and FAS early can stop the progression of these issues with proper treatment
  • Certain lifestyle changes may reverse the deterioration of the brain in some cases, with quitting drinking as the clear first step. If you catch your alcohol abuse and addiction early, stop drinking, and keep a healthy diet, the long-term effects of alcohol can be undone over time.

Contact The Healing Place at 844-524-6873 for more information on alcohol addiction treatments. We can help you stop drinking through a safe and effective medical detox program, and through a customized, integrated rehab program can help you heal your body, mind, and soul as you get to the root of your addiction and gain the tools that will lead to long-term recovery.

(844) 762-3755