A drink or two on occasion can actually be good for you, especially red win, but do you know the effects of alcohol on your brain – especially if you drink more than that one or two occasional drinks?
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows brain cell communication, in addition to decreasing limbic system function.
As the limbic system controls anxiety and fear, this can mean decreased inhibitions – but it also leads to more impulsive behavior, which when combined with how alcohol slows the function of your prefrontal cortex, can lead to especially poor decision-making skills while under the influence of alcohol.
With greater alcohol consumption, this can spiral farther – at which point your cerebellum (which helps control muscle activity) can also be affected. This can lead to dizziness, lost balance, and worse. If the neurons in your brain are badly enough impaired by alcohol, they may lose their ability to regulate your heart and respiratory systems – which can lead to a system shutdown, and consequently, death.
Of course, alcohol affects different people in different ways, dependent upon body weight, fat and muscle make-up, current health, and even genetic makeup. Whether or not you’re eating while drinking also affects alcohol’s effects, as food in your stomach tends to reduce alcohol absorption, and mood may also play a role.
Clearly, though, how alcohol affects the brain is frequently misunderstood – or, if not, then frequently ignored – as more than 30,000 Americans died from alcohol-related causes in 2014 alone – a rate of nearly 10 deaths per 100,000 people. That number was a 35-year high – and does not include accidents, drunk driving deaths, or alcohol-related homicides – all of which may put the number much higher. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention actually suggests that considering those deaths, the total may approach nearly 100,000 each year.
As the Washington Post reports,
In recent years, public health experts have focused extensively on overdose deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers, which have risen rapidly since the early 2000s.
But in 2014, more people died from alcohol-induced causes (30,722) than from overdoses of prescription painkillers and heroin combined (28,647), according to the CDC.”
Alcohol poisoning impairs your body and eventually can shut down the areas of your brain that control basic life-support functions like breathing, heart rate, and temperature control. Women are more vulnerable to alcohol poisoning, in part because they have lower body water percentage in the body.
These are some of the most common telltale signs of alcohol poisoning:
- Loss of coordination
- Cold, clammy hands and bluish skin due to hypothermia
- Vomiting repeatedly and/or uncontrollably
- Irregular or slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths)
- Confusion, unconsciousness, stupor (conscious but unresponsive), and sometimes coma
Regular exercise can help combat some of the effects alcohol may have on your brain, however, as exercise releases dopamine – a chemical your brain associates with rewarding behavior – which can replace your body’s desire to drink to release that same dopamine.
As a result, by replacing drinking with exercise, you may find that the rewarding feeling you get from exercise provides you with a suitable alternative to the rewarding feeling you previously got from alcohol.
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