alcohol and mental health

Many people enjoy a drink or two after a long day or when socializing with friends. Alcohol can certainly lighten the mood in many scenarios. While a few drinks here and there aren’t overly concerning, many people consume too much alcohol.

Living in a society where alcohol seems to be idolized, it’s not hard to understand why so many often drink in excess. Your friends might make fun of you if you go out with them and refuse to have a drink. People may assume you’re ill if you refuse a glass of champagne at a wedding you’re attending.

At times the pressure to have a drink in a social setting can seem inescapable. Doing so too often, however, can have adverse effects on your physical and mental health.

Many people are aware of what alcohol can do to their bodies. The effects of alcohol on the lungs, kidneys, and liver are significant reasons life insurance for alcoholics is more expensive than for those who don’t drink often.

But many people may be unaware of just how much effect alcohol can have on the brain.

How Does Alcohol Affect The Mental Health?

Alcohol will not affect everyone in the same way. Many factors can influence how much alcohol affects the brain. From childhood events to choices made in adulthood, there is no formula to calculate precisely what alcohol will do to someone.

The factors that can play into alcohol’s effect on the brain include:

  • Age – What age a person began consuming alcohol can be a large factor in its effects.
  • Frequency – How often a person drinks can increase possible effects.
  • Overall health status – Someone who has underlying health conditions may have worsening effects from alcohol.
  • Prenatal alcohol exposure – Babies exposed to alcohol in the womb may experience more side effects because of early exposure.

Though the effects of alcohol may differ for each person experiencing them, some commonalities are seen in heavy drinkers.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

The short-term effects on the brain from alcohol consumption are not as severe as the long-term effects. However, they are not without their potential consequences.

Loss of Judgement and Restraint

It’s likely anyone who has consumed too much alcohol has a story about a poor choice they made. Perhaps you did something silly you would never do without a little liquid courage.

While small, rash decisions likely won’t have any long-term consequences, the lack of judgment and restraint brought on by alcohol can cause more severe repercussions. Many people use their lack of inhibition to do things like driving themselves home after having too much to drink.

Because judgment is so poor after drinking too much, the brain does not recognize the consequences of potentially dangerous actions. When someone is sober, they will be able to process what could happen if they choose to drive drunk. But after a few too many drinks, your brain will stop producing those rational thoughts.

Loss of Coordination and Blurred Vision

Mixing a lack of judgment and restraint with lowered coordination and vision is a recipe for injury. You may act out of character when you are drunk and do dangerous actions you usually wouldn’t.

While certain things aren’t a good idea, even sober, not being in total control of your body can only make them worse. Many injuries result from alcohol’s effect on the brain, leaving impacts that extend far beyond the drinks leaving your body.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Drinking in excess for an extended period of time can have severe effects on the brain. Though most people consider the physical damages alcohol can cause, the mental health havoc it can wreak is just as concerning.

Dropping Dopamine Levels

Your brain will naturally produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for motivation and pleasure. High levels of dopamine create a happier, more confident version of yourself.

When alcohol comes into play, it triggers a much higher-than-average increase in dopamine levels. Consistent drinking will eventually cause the brain to produce less dopamine naturally, making you more reliant on the alcohol to increase levels. Over time, more and more alcohol will be needed to meet the desired dopamine levels.

Chasing this increased dopamine level creates alcohol dependence. When you stop drinking, you will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms because your brain has been overstimulated and needs to rebalance itself.

Short and Long-Term Memory Loss

It’s not a massive secret that over consuming alcohol can lead to a spotty memory of the night. However, alcohol’s long-term effects on memory loss can be far worse than just forgetting a portion of your evening.

Heavy drinking over an extended period can damage the hippocampus, which has a significant role in memory and learning. If not caught and reversed, over consumption can lead to what is called alcohol dementia. The name was earned due to the striking similarities seen in dementia patients.

Those suffering from alcohol dementia may experience memory loss, impaired judgment, difficulties in speaking, and an inability to perform routine tasks. These symptoms can be seen in heavy drinkers as young as 30.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

In the worst-case scenario of excessive alcohol consumption, a person may be diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. These are technically two different conditions. However, they occur together so frequently that they have been given a combined title.

Both conditions are caused by brain damage due to a lack of vitamin B1. Heavy drinking over extended periods is a leading cause of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

Typically, a patient will experience Wernicke encephalopathy first, followed by Korsakoff syndrome. Wernicke encephalopathy is responsible for brain damage in the lower portions of the brain called the thalamus and hypothalamus. Korsakoff syndrome causes permanent brain damage to parts of the brain responsible for memory.

Symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy might include:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of mental activity
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Vision changes such as eyelid drooping, double vision, and nystagmus.

Once the symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy clear away, Korsakoff syndrome symptoms will start to appear.

Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome include:

  • Creating false scenarios
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Severe memory loss

Without the proper treatment, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome will continue to get worse and may even result in death. If someone suffering from the illness seeks treatment and takes the proper steps, such as quitting drinking, there is the possibility of slowing or stopping the condition.

Effects of Alcohol on Mental Health

While having a drink here and there is nothing to be concerned about, alcohol abuse can lead to various complications. Some are simply fixed like a broken bone, while others are lifelong consequences.

Consuming alcohol responsibility, knowing your limits, and being self-aware of your frequency and consumption volume are essential factors to keep in mind. Most people don’t simply start out with an alcohol problem.

It may take an extended period of time to notice excessive drinking, but it’s important to remember the mental health effects it can have. If you feel you are developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s never too late to get help and begin to reverse the effects.

About The Author

Alexandra Arcand writes and researches for the life insurance comparison site, QuickQuote.com. She knows the adverse effects alcohol can have on people’s mental health and thinks it’s important to bring awareness to the topic.

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