The effects of alcohol are apparent in both the brain and the body. Multiple organs are affected by the consumption of alcohol. Some of the effects can be seen after just a few drinks. Other effects don’t become apparent until years later. From memory loss to liver failure, one thing is abundantly clear: alcohol ravages the organs of the human body.
What Impacts the Effects of Alcohol?
Clearly, one drink doesn’t lead to liver failure. Many things have an impact on the effects of alcohol experienced by each individual. All of the following factors play a role in the ultimate outcome of alcohol consumption:
- How much a person drinks
- Prenatal alcohol exposure
- How often a person drinks
- The age a person began drinking
- How long a person has been drinking
- Personal demographics: age, level of education, gender, genetic background, and family history of alcoholism, among others
- A person’s general health
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
The effects of alcohol on the brain can be dramatic. To understand how alcohol affects the brain, you must first realize that some effects can be seen almost immediately. However, the long-term effects can be devastating.
Alcohol affects multiple areas of the brain. Regions including the frontal lobe and prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus. It also affects the hypothalamus, cerebellum, and amygdala. Impairments of brain function can be seen after just a few drinks. Difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, and slowed reaction time. All are examples of the short-term effects of alcohol on the brain. Memory impairment is another common effect of alcohol.
Blackouts — defined as episodes where a person is unable to remember what they have said or done after consuming large amounts of alcohol — are actually much more common among social drinkers than once thought.
Chronic heavy drinkers run the risk of suffering from the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain. Which include the following:
- Diminished brain size
- Inability to think abstractly
- Loss of visuospatial abilities
- Memory loss
- Loss of attention span
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is another serious effect of alcohol. As many as 80 percent of alcoholics suffer from a thiamine deficiency. Some of these people will eventually develop WKS. This syndrome is actually made up of two conditions.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy is an acute condition. It causes mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes, and difficulty with muscle coordination.
Of those alcoholics suffering from Wernicke’s encephalopathy, 80 to 90 percent will go on the develop Korsakoff’s psychosis. This second stage is a long-lasting and debilitating condition.
Patients with Korsakoff’s psychosis have persistent learning and memory problems. They are forgetful and quickly frustrated. These patients have difficulty with walking and coordination as well. Not only do people with Korsakoff’s have trouble remembering old information, they also have a very difficult time “laying down” new information. For example, a person with WKS can spend an hour telling you all about an experience they had in their youth. But then, a few hours later, they can’t remember that they ever had that conversation with you.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
The brain isn’t the only organ of the human body that is affected by alcohol. The heart, liver, and pancreas are all negatively impacted by the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol also weakens the immune system and makes the body more susceptible to a variety of cancers. Understanding how alcohol affects the body means we need to look at what drinking alcohol does to each of these parts of the body.
Chronic alcohol use can lead to cardiomyopathy which is the stretching and drooping of the heart muscle. Also, arrhythmias, which is an irregular heartbeat, stroke and high blood pressure.
Heavy drinking can lead to liver disease. The long-term use of alcohol causes steatosis (fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Eventually, liver failure can result, which can lead to death.
The prolonged use of alcohol can cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances. These toxins eventually cause the dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas; commonly known as pancreatitis.
Drinking alcohol also weakens the body’s immune system. As a result, the body is unable to fight off opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Alcohol predisposes heavy drinkers to a variety of cancers in multiple areas of the body, including:
Alcohol Wreaks Havoc on the Brain and Body
In conclusion, alcohol is no friend to the human body. Not only does the brain suffer from the effects of alcohol after only a few drinks, the long-term effects on both the brain and body can be devastating. While a drink now and then isn’t too bad for you, heavy drinking can lead to organ damage and ultimately, death. Finally, if you or someone you know struggles with alcoholism, seek professional help and always follow your doctor’s advice.
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