Alcohol and the Brain
It is well-known that excessive consumption of alcohol has an adverse impact on the liver, heart and digestive system. It is important to note, the effects of alcohol on the brain are also serious. It can result in structural damage, cognitive deficits and changes in mental health status. Alcohol blocks chemical signals between brain cells, which manifests in the symptoms of intoxication: impulsive behavior, slurred speech and slowed reflexes.
Over time, repeated high-alcohol consumption damages neurological pathways, and creates brain shrinkage of both grey and white matter. Adolescents are at an increased risk for permanent damage since their brains are still developing. This damage in the brain manifests as cognitive impairments which include confusion, lack of verbal fluency, struggles with verbal learning, neural processing speed, working memory, attention, problem solving, spatial processing and impulsivity.
Neuro imaging has provided greater understanding, not only of the cognitive impact but also of the physiological changes that short and long-term alcohol use has on the brain. Mental health risks include overall mood and personality changes, increased anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep problems and alcohol-related dementia.
For those with pre-existing mental health or psychiatric disorders, conditions are further compromised by alcohol consumption. Although alcohol can inflict lasting harm on the brain, it is of value to remember that seeking treatment that addresses mental health and alcohol addiction is the first step in preventing or reducing the negative effects of alcohol on the brain. Abstinence can reverse much of the damage if treatment begins in time.
Article authored by: Maren Ernstrom, LCMHC, MT-BC, Associate Clinical Director, Recovery Ways