For a large number of people around the globe, alcohol is an integral part of their lives. People consume alcohol when they are joyful, gloomy, infuriated, disheartened, and sometimes without any reason. Though moderate alcohol consumption may have substantial health benefits, there’s a definite responsibility attached to its ingestion. The irony is that this mind-altering liquid hinders a person’s capability to ‘think responsibly’. Alcohol is perceived to be a magical potion that supposedly holds the solution to the toughest of problems. Yet, it’s funny how alcohol fiddles with the control center of our body; the brain, which actually fuels the power to problem-solving! There are some severe repercussions, no matter how exhilarating it may appear. This criticism of alcohol might seem to be a party pooper, but the truth is as bittersweet as the magical potion itself. Apart from some obvious damages such as slurred speech, distorted vision, slowed response, stumbled walking and memory loss, there are several ways in which alcohol affects the brain and other organs.
Types of drinkers & associated alcoholic disorders
Individuals who take pleasure in drinking and surrendering themselves to the intoxication of alcohol are segregated into four categories; occasional drinkers, moderate drinkers, heavy drinkers and binge drinkers. In occasional or social drinkers, after effects are short lived and not very harmful after one or more drinks. Loss of memory occurs if the number of drinks exceed and result in blackouts when consumed on an empty stomach. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a woman is referred to as a moderate drinker if she quaffs one drink in a day, whereas in men, one who gulps down two drinks.
Scientists say men are more prone to alcoholism than women. Even though no punishment is worth the ramifications, yet, there are more men eager for this glorious punishment. Moderate drinking doesn’t weaken the cognitive tasks, rather it may provide few health benefits; by reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Inversely, there are better ways to take care of one’s health instead of succumbing to alcohol. Moderate drinking increases the risk of breast cancer, violence, unprotected sex, falls, drowning and car accidents. When individual transitions from a moderate or occasional drinker to a heavy drinker, he/she reaches the state of alcohol abuse that is chronic and worrisome. It results in prolonged harm to brain functioning even after soberness is achieved.
Binge drinkers are those who drink-up too much too fast. This trait can be seen when people are in extremely celebratory, or melancholic mode but most often in college students. The fallout of such an incident is alcohol poisoning leading to death/coma. Such are the consequences of exploiting something instead of experiencing it infrequently. Alcohol dilates and contracts the blood vessels, causing migraine headaches due to fluctuating blood pressure. Prenatal alcohol abuse by expecting mothers result in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) that causes brain dysfunctions, including Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and impaired IQ in their babies. Growth and facial abnormalities are also linked to these infants.
Alcoholism could be a result of genetic background, exposure to prenatal alcohol, depression, frequency at which an individual drink and when that person first began drinking. Dizzy already? Hopefully not!
How alcohol deceives the brain
There is a delusional glamour anchored to drinking that makes heavy drinkers neglectful of the petrifying brain complications attached to it. Brain, the organ responsible for intelligence and effective running of numerous organs, goes through a turmoil with alcohol consumption. Alcohol acts as a depressant to the brain, decelerating balanced functions. A reason why people experience tranquility, when boozed!
Alcohol manages to kill brain cells (neurons) as it can cross the blood-brain barrier and perhaps, alters the parts of teenage brain that are still developing. It hampers the levels of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers liable for transmitting signals throughout the body, control thinking, emotions and behavior). Stimulation of certain neurotransmitters leads to drowsiness and suppression of energy. Alcohol manipulates the brain to release dopamine in the brain’s reward center (ventral striatum) that puts it in a state of pleasure. Prolonged liver dysfunction due to extreme alcoholism may cause a brain disorder, hepatic encephalopathy. This brain disorder disrupts the sleeping pattern, mood and personality, causing anxiety, depression, shortened attention span and weak coordination.
It may lead to fatal hepatic coma. Research supports that up to 80 per cent of chronic alcohol users have a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, which may progress to a serious brain disorder known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS). Symptoms of WKS encompass confusion, paralysis of eye nerves, impaired muscle coordination, persistent problems with memory and learning ability. Let brain swirl a bit more with the data on how alcohol affects certain brain-parts. Cerebral cortex; area of the brain where thought processing is centered, alcohol obstructs the thought processes, in turn setting one free and making it difficult for one to think clearly. Alcohol makes you clumsy because it messes with Cerebellum; the part of the brain involved with movement and balance. The nerve centers in the Hypothalamus and Pituitary part of the brain, that control sexual arousal and performance are depressed by alcohol, increasing sexual urge and lowering the performance.
Alcohol consumption induces sleepiness in the area of the brain called Medulla; which handles breathing and body temperature. It can also slow breathing and lower body temperature, making it lethal. Alcohol is the second biggest cause of cancers of the mouth and throat after smoking. It causes liver cancer, stomach ulcers, inflamed pancreas, kidney disorder, osteoporosis, weight gain and blotchy skin! Certainly not the miraculous tonic to a youthful skin. The amount of alcohol you can drink in a day without risking your life or someone’s is less than you might think. You booze, you cruise and you lose! It’s worth giving some thought to your own pattern of drinking and ways to manage it, to enjoy alcohol safely.
However, for that one must be honest to oneself, strong-willed, should not succumb to peer pressure, reject the notion that alcohol evaporates your problems, helps you reach a state of bliss, and be ready to embrace the assistance needed for recuperation. As acceptance is redemptive not denial! A complete turn away from alcohol isn’t compulsory, while there’s nothing like it! If one keeps a close eye on ensuring nutritious diet and knows when to stop boozing, then, engaging in frivolous drinking once in a while, won’t shrink the brain to walnut.
As Robert Byrne says, “purpose of life is a life of purpose”, don’t waste it in getting wasted. Above all, strive to thrive not merely to survive. This new year create the memories that you can cherish later and don’t depend on the deceitful solution as your source of fun. For, if your heart sets out to do good things, things only get better.
The writer is an Entrepreneurial Biotechnologist and passionate about creating awareness amongst the masses and steering a tangible change in the healthcare delivery systems.
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