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During a continuous hour of prime-time television, it’s likely you will be subjected to at least one alcohol-related commercial.  These commercials all share one thing in common, they all feature happy, attractive young adults having fun enjoying their products.  Alcohol companies hope these short advertisements of bliss will subconsciously induce a desire to consume their products.  The next time we see the logo, or hear the jingle, our brain associates it with fun.  Being widely available, and socially acceptable we choose to imbibe.  Below is a summary of what happens in our brains when we take that first sip.

The Brain on Alcohol

Once ingested, alcohol affects the brain in ways that still aren’t completely understood.  What has been realized is the negative effects of overconsumption, also known as alcoholism, both short and long-term.

While alcohol is absorbed throughout your body, it takes a toll on the brain. Alcohol interferes with our brain’s natural communication systems, and can slow down how your brain receives and interprets information.  Alcohol has shown to both block and/or enhance certain neurotransmissions, leading to euphoria, depression, and impaired judgement.

Alcohol is rapidly absorbed through your stomach lining into your bloodstream, reaching the brain in approximately five minutes.  After about 10 minutes the effects of the ingested alcohol can be fully felt.  The most common initial effect is euphoria and decreased inhibitions.  In the brain, increased levels of dopamine create an overall feeling of well being, also Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating our Central Nervous System decreases brain activity and begins to slow down fine motor skills.

The Risks

At or above .09 BAC (blood alcohol content) you are considered legally intoxicated.  Operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery is prohibited as one can expect blurred vision, slurred speech and hearing, and lack of control. The parietal lobe, a part of the brain that processes sensory information is also affected, causing a loss of fine motor skills and slower reaction time.

A BAC of .25-.40 would put you at risk of alcohol poisoning, overall brain functions and motor skills severely impaired, and increased respiratory depression that leads to decreased consciousness.

Continued consumption leads to coma and ultimately death.  Chronic abuse risks are significant, brain function impairment continues to worsen and can become permanent.  This condition, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, also known as “Wet Brain” can be accompanied by symptoms similar to Dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Ultimately, alcohol is a substance that affects our bodies and brains in negative ways, especially when abused or over-consumed.  Long-term alcohol use has serious consequences on our bodies and brains that can often be irreversible or life threatening.  If you’re concerned about the effects of drinking on your own body, or think that you may be excessively drinking, you should contact a health professional right away to discuss your concerns and the risks associated.  If you feel as though you’re drinking has become problematic and you’re unsure how to cut back or stop completely, consider speaking with a treatment or addiction specialist that can help you come up with an individualized plan that is right for you.