Ask Your Doctor: ALCOHOL AND YOUR BRAIN

anguillian
By anguillian August 7, 2017 11:14 Updated

 

 

Most of us are aware that alcohol can affect our brain. Some of these effects can be mild and transient, but others can be long lasting and vary from one individual to another even resulting in permanent brain damage.

Alcohol and the brain
There is abundant evidence that alcohol can affect the brain. Drinking too much alcohol may change the normal function of the areas of your brain associated with the experience of pleasure, judgment and the ability to exercise control over your behaviour. Excessive drinking can reduce your judgment skills and lower inhibitions, leading to poor choices and dangerous situations or behaviours. The effects of alcohol on the brain might be influenced by several factors. Some factors include the following:
• how much and how often a person drinks;
• the age at which he or she first began drinking, and how long he or she has been drinking;
• the person’s age, gender, genetic background, and family history of alcoholism;
• whether he or she is at risk as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure; and
• his or her general health status.

Alcohol and brain disorders
Many disorders in the brain can result after consuming alcohol. Alcohol drinking may have extensive and far–reaching effects on the brain, ranging from simple “slips” in memory to permanent and debilitating conditions. The following can occur after alcohol use:

Blackouts/memory lapses – Alcohol can produce detectable impairments in memory after only a few drinks and, as the amount of alcohol increases, so does the degree of impairment. Large quantities of alcohol, especially when consumed quickly and on an empty stomach, can produce a blackout, or an interval of time for which the intoxicated person cannot recall key details of events, or even entire events.
Blackouts are much more common among social drinkers than previously assumed, and should be viewed as a potential consequence of acute intoxication regardless of age or whether the drinker is clinically dependent on alcohol.
Females are at greater risk than males for experiencing blackouts. A woman’s tendency to blackout, more easily, probably results from differences in how men and women metabolize alcohol. Females may also be more susceptible than males to milder forms of alcohol–induced memory impairments, even when men and women consume comparable amounts of alcohol.

Thiamine deficiency and brain damage – Many individuals who abuse alcohol develop deficiency in thiamin (vitamin B1), and some of these people will go on to develop serious brain damage. Some develop Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) a condition that is characterized by mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes (i.e., oculomotor disturbances), and difficulty with muscle coordination. For example, patients with Wernicke’s encephalopathy may be too confused to find their way out of a room or may not even be able to walk.

Alcohol and mental health – There is evidence that alcohol affects the chemicals in the brain. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health. Alcohol contributes to feelings of depression and anxiety and makes stress harder to deal with. Alcohol can make people lose their inhibitions and behave impulsively, so it can lead to actions they might not otherwise have taken – including self-harm and suicide.

Alcohol effects on the developing brain – Pregnant women are advised not to consume any alcohol during pregnancy. Drinking during pregnancy can lead to a range of physical, learning, and behavioural effects in the developing brain, the most serious of which is a collection of symptoms known as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS may have distinct facial features. FAS infants also are markedly smaller than average. Their brains may have less volume and they may have fewer numbers of brain cells, or fewer neurons that are able to function correctly, leading to long–term problems in learning and behaviour.

Alcohol and driving – Driving under the influence is the act of operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level, BAC, over the legal limit.
Any amount of alcohol affects your brain and affects your judgment and your ability to drive safely. You may not notice the effects but even a small amount of alcohol can:
• reduce your coordination
• slow down your reactions
• affect your vision
• affect how you judge speed and distance
• make you drowsy
The safest option is not to drink any alcohol at all if you plan to drive. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect your ability to drive, and there is no safe way to tell whether you are within the legal limit.

Conclusion
Alcohol can affect many organs in the body. Its effects on the brain can lead to serious complications some of which can be life-threatening. If you abuse alcohol, your doctor can help you figure out if you should make changes in your drinking, and offer help and advice along the way. If you are concerned about someone’s drinking, or your own, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider today.
Ask Your Doctor is a health education column and is not a substitute for medical advice from your physician. The reader should consult his or her physician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field are ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.
Dr Brett Hodge MB BS DGO MRCOG, is an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist and Family Doctor who has over thirty-two years in clinical practice. Dr Hodge has a medical practice in The Johnson Building in The Valley (Tel: 264 4975828).

anguillian
By anguillian August 7, 2017 11:14 Updated

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