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Alcohol and the Brain: Assessing the Damage

Posted by Kimbra

We have all seen someone who has indulged in too much alcohol. The effects of a long night of partying are obvious: slurred speech, blurry vision, short-term memory loss and walking difficulties, to name a few. It is clear that alcohol affects the brain, as most of these effects are neurological symptoms. As the effects of the alcohol wear off, these symptoms gradually subside, usually after a good night's sleep. However, for the heavy drinker, or alcoholic, the effects on the brain might not be quite as temporary. In fact, permanent damage to the brain can result from chronic drinking. These effects depend, of course, on how much alcohol is consumed, and how regularly. Let's take a look at some of the ways alcohol can damage the brain.

Memory Loss and Blackouts

Over-indulging in alcohol can result in memory impairment. Individuals who are affected often forget events that happened while they were drinking. This type of memory loss can occur after only a few drinks. As a person becomes a heavy drinker, memory impairment can become more serious, and even chronic. Another effect, usually caused by drinking too much on an empty stomach, is the blackout. After a blackout, the person sometimes cannot remember entire blocks of time.

Brain Shrinkage

Results of autopsies have shown that the brains of alcoholics are smaller, less dense, and are more shrunken than the brains of non-drinkers of similar age and sex. In addition, this shrinkage is particularly severe in the part of the brain responsible for the higher cognitive, or learning, abilities.

Thiamine Deficiency

Thiamine deficiency is common among alcoholics, and is due in part to poor nutrition. Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is essential to brain function. Most people get the thiamine they need from foods, such as meat, poultry, whole grains, beans and nuts. However, heavy drinkers are deficient in thiamine, resulting in serious brain disorders, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which has two parts- Wernicke's encephalopathy, and the long-lasting,debilitating condition , Korsakoff's psychosis. Symptoms of these disorders include mental confusion, nerve paralysis of the eyes and problems with muscle coordination.

Hepatic Encephalopathy

Everyone is aware of the damaging effects that alcohol has on the liver. But, many do not know that prolonged liver damage can be harmful to the brain. This damage can lead to the potentially fatal brain disorder, hepatic encephalopathy. Hepatic encephalopathy causes changes in mood, personality and sleep patterns. Anxiety and depression, as well as short attention span, and lack of coordination, are also common. These symptoms are serious, and can sometimes lead to coma, or even death. Are you a women seeking addiction treatment. Click Here.

Drinking During Pregnancy

Drinking during pregnancy can lead to a host of physical, behavioral and learning disabilities in the developing child's brain. The brain of a child whose mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy may have a smaller brain with less volume, and fewer brain cells, which can lead to long-term learning and behavioral problems. A child with many symptoms related to alcohol abuse is said to have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

These are just a few of the many ways in which alcohol damages the brain. The effects may be minimal, or they can be devastating, even causing severe disability, or death. The best way to protect the brain is by drinking responsibly, or not at all.

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