Alcohol's Effect On... The Brain
A number of factors influence how and to what extent alcohol affects the brain, including:
- 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, level of education, 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 affects diffeent parts of the brain in different ways:
The cerebral cortex
The cerebral cortex processes information from your senses, processes thoughts, initiates the majority of voluntary muscle movements and has some control over lower-order brain centers.
In the cerebral cortex, alcohol can:
- Affect thought processes, leading to potentially poor judgment.
- Depresses inhibition, leading one to become more talkative and more confident.
- Blunts the senses and increases the threshold for pain.
As the BAC (Blood Alcohol Contect) increases, these effects get more pronounced.
The limbic system
The limbic system, which consists of the hippocampus and septal area of the brain, controls memory and emotions.
In the limbic system, alcohol can:
- Increase the chance that the person may experience some memory loss and may have exaggerated states of emotion.
The cerebellum coordinates muscle movement. The cerebral cortex initiates the muscular movement by sending a signal through the medulla and spinal cord to the muscles. As the nerve signals pass through the medulla, they are influenced by nerve impulses from the cerebellum, which controls the fine movements, including those necessary for balance.
In the cerebellum, alcohol can:
- Affects the muscle movements make someone become uncoordinated.
The hypothalamus, pituitary gland
The hypothalamus controls and influences many automatic functions of the brain (through the medulla), and coordinates hormonal release (through the pituitary gland).
In the hypothalamius, alcohol can:
- Depresses nerve centers in the hypothalamus that control sexual arousal and performance.
- With increased alcohol consumption, sexual desire increases - but sexual performance declines.
The medulla (brain stem) influences or controls body functions that occur automatically, such as your heart rate, temperature and breathing.
In the medulla, alcohol can:
- Make a person start to feel sleepy.
- Increased consumption can lead to unconscious. Needless to say, alcohol's effect on the medulla can be fatal if it is excessive.