The Buzz on Booze and the Brain

Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

A new year is an opportunity to start fresh. That’s something to celebrate, whether it’s with a champagne toast among friends or a glass of wine at home with a loved one. While a drink can give us a nice buzz to ring in the new year, there are a few things about alcohol we should keep in mind as we continue to celebrate the dawning of 2019.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Alcohol is a little bit deceptive in that it is a depressant to the central nervous system, but it appears otherwise as a stimulant because it mutes a lot of our inhibitions. This is part of what makes us feel carefree and confident when under the influence. The effects of alcohol on the brain really depend on what parts of the brain have been affected.

  • Cerebral cortex: This is where we process external information as we think, perceive and understand. Alcohol slows down our thought processes, which can lead to poor judgment.
  • Frontal lobes: This area is important for planning, forming ideas, making decisions, and using self-control. When alcohol affects it, it becomes difficult to maintain control and resist urges, causing one to act without thinking or even become violent.
  • Hippocampus: This area is where memories are made, so when it’s affected by alcohol, one might have trouble remembering things. For more serious drinking over time, it may even be difficult to hold onto certain knowledge.
  • Cerebellum: This area is crucial for coordination and awareness. When alcohol comes in, a person’s balance and coordination (thus, driving) may suffer.
  • Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus controls body temperature, thirst, and hunger. After drinking alcohol, blood pressure, hunger, and thirst increase (as well as the need to urinate), and the body’s temperature and heart rate tend to decrease.
  • Medulla: This is in charge of the body’s automatic actions, like the heartbeat. Alcohol actually makes the body cooler, and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to unconsciousness.

Alcohol Affects Some More than Others

Women Drinking WineHow alcohol affects a person also depends on how much and how often they drink, at what age they first started drinking and how long since, family history of alcoholism, and general health status. However, taking things too far in the form of binge drinking isn’t good for anyone. For men, it’s defined as consuming five or more drinks in two hours; for women, binge drinking is four or more drinks. Low-risk drinking for women is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as “no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week.” For men, the NIAAA defines it as “no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.”

According to research, women are actually more susceptible than men to the health consequences of alcohol use, especially when consumed in excess. For example (NIAAA), women who deal with alcoholism develop conditions like cirrhosis, damage to the heart muscle, and nerve damage after fewer years of heavy drinking than alcoholic men.

Alcoholism and the New Year: What To Do

If you struggle with alcoholism, this time of year may be especially difficult for you. The best course of action would be to simply avoid parties at bars and other places where alcohol will be readily served. There are also alcohol-free cocktails you can make with fancy juices and sparkling water if you’re at a friend’s house or more low-key party where alcoholic beverages are being consumed.

Make sure your closest friends and family who know about your struggle are able to support you, but when you’re around those who don’t know or understand the seriousness, don’t be afraid to be assertive. Let them know that, “No, I am not drinking tonight,” and stand firm on that regardless of their nonchalant mentality. Perhaps bring a friend who would also like to stay sober as a nice support system throughout the evening.

Everyone: Drink in Moderation

It is appropriate to celebrate good times and new beginnings with a glass or two of something. Just be aware that an excessive consumption can affect you and others in different ways. This awareness can help us truly enjoy the holidays and new year a lot healthier. This way, we will actually remember the good times the next morning. So, keep that in mind as you’re poppin bottles throughout January.


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