Alcohol perhaps is the oldest drug in the world. People have been consuming it for centuries. Today, alcohol consumption is a worry, as many people are addicted to it. However, what many drinkers do not know is how alcohol affects your brain and central nervous system.
Alcohol is known as a depressant of the brain and central nervous system. However, the way alcohol affects a person is dependent on the age, sex, food consumed, medications being taken and the overall health of the person. When a person consumes alcohol, it first makes it way into the stomach. Here a tiny part of the alcohol is absorbed by the bloodstream, but the majority enters into the small intestine. In the small intestine, alcohol makes it way into the bloodstream and thereafter the heart pumps it to the rest of the body. The alcohol is metabolized by the liver. Around 0.5 ounces of alcohol is metabolized every hour. It is converted into energy, carbon dioxide and water.
If small amounts of alcohol are consumed, it relaxes a person, eases tension, reduces inhibitions, causes concentration issues, slows down reflexes, and also causes coordination problems. Medium amount of alcohol causes slurring of speech, drowsiness, and changes emotions. While large amounts of alcohol induces vomiting, causes breathing problems, renders a person unconscious and can even induce coma.
Alcohol affects many parts of the brain and central nervous system, such as the spinal cord, cerebral cortex and even certain neurotransmitters. Alcohol can increase production of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are both neurotransmitters secreted by the brain. It can reduce the transmission of acetylcholine system, while increasing the transmission in GABA system. Alcohol is also responsible for increasing the secretion of beta endorphin which occurs in the hypothalamus.
If a person is addicted to alcohol, it can result in many more central nervous system problems. This is obvious when a person addicted to alcohol is stopped from drinking. The person experiences tremors, nausea and sleeping problems. At times, even seizures and hallucinations can occur during the alcohol withdrawal phase. Alcohol addiction can cause harm to the frontal lobes of the brain, it can reduce the overall size of the brain, while increasing the ventricle size, it can result in malabsorption of Vitamin B1, which is known as Wernicke's Encephalopathy, which, in turn, can result in Korsakoff's Syndrome. The latter causes loss of memory, disorientation and apathy.
When pregnant women consume alcohol on a regular basis, it results in fetal alcohol syndrome. In this syndrome, the brain development of the fetus is impaired, wherein the corpus callosum connecting the two halves of the cerebrum is impaired; it decreases the basal ganglia size; and it also causes severe damage to the cerebral cortex as well as the cerebellum.
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Neuroscience for Kids: Alcohol and The Brain