physiological effects of alcohol

Your Brain On Bubbly: How Alcoholism Changes Your Physiology

Alcohol is one of the most widely used substances in history. That’s one of the reasons we know so much about the physiological effects of alcohol.

Even in America about 52% of people aged 12 and older drink alcohol. Many of these people are binge drinkers and even drive under the influence.

Alcohol in moderation has some health benefits. These include reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, new studies suggest that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, because the risk for health side effects to drinking outweigh any benefits that light or moderate drinking would bring.

But doctors define moderate drinking as one 5ml glass of alcohol per day. Any more than that, and you’re looking at a host of long-lasting health issues.

If you’re concerned, keep reading to discover the physiological effects of alcohol.

What are the Physiological Effects of Alcohol?

Alcohol, also referred to as ethanol can cross cell membranes with ease. That’s why we use ethanol as a cleaner and disinfectant. As a cleaner, alcohol breaks down proteins and lipids. These same proteins and lipids make up our cell walls.

Most of the time, our livers will break down any alcohol before it does major harm. But if you damage your liver with too much alcohol, it won’t be able to protect your body from the ethanol. That’s why long-term alcohol use is so dangerous.

Different Factors in the Physiological Effects of Alcohol

Alcoholism can affect people in different ways. Some of the effects have to do with how long and how often a person abused alcohol.

The various factors that affect your physiology are:

  • How often you drink
  • How much you drink
  • The age you started drinking
  • How many years you’ve been drinking
  • Your age, sex, and other genetic dispositions
  • If your family has a history of alcoholism
  • Your general health condition

What Does This Mean For You and Your Body?

When your liver stops, those destructive properties wreak havoc on your body. Here are some of the physiological effects of alcohol.

Your Liver

If a person consumes too much alcohol, it will hurt the liver first. Over time the solvency and toxic effects of the alcohol will break down the molecules of the liver.

This can lead to:

  • Liver inflammation
  • Steatosis
  • Fibrosis, which happens when scar tissue develops in the liver
  • Cirrhosis, that occurs when the scar tissue takes over the liver. This stops it from performing its basic functions.

Your Brain

Normal alcohol use affects brain functions as it is. It acts as a depressant, which can calm down drinkers and make it easier for them to socialize.

This happens because alcohol crosses the blood-brain barrier. This barrier protects the brain from harmful chemicals. Alcohol also affects the neurotransmitters and receptors.

Over time the ethanol will damage the cell walls in your brain. This weakens the blood-brain barrier, which hurts the blood vessels in your brain. That creates a whole host of issues that affect everything else in your body.

Also, alcoholism can lead to long-term brain diseases. Scientists have found that alcohol users develop a thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is important for glucose metabolism. You also need it for nerve, heart, and muscle functions.

Some of these people with thiamine deficiencies will develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. WKS is a serious brain disorder that includes:

  • Confusion
  • Eye nerve paralysis
  • Problems with muscle coordination
  • Issues with memory and learning abilities

Your Mood and Mental Health

Although many people turn to alcohol to have a good time, it’s actually a depressant.

That’s why doctors are so adamant about depression victims not using alcohol. While alcohol can lower someone’s inhibitions, it’s also chemically affecting the brain. This makes your brain more susceptible to depression and mood swings.

On top of this, alcohol can lead to a vitamin deficiency in the body. This can hurt the brain and result in:

  • Memory loss
  • Gait problems
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Ataxia

Your Blood Pressure

Alcohol in high concentrations acts as a vasoconstrictor. This increases your blood pressure, which is why you get red in the face when you drink too much.

High blood pressure is already a danger in itself. It can lead to problems including heart attack, sexual impotency, and blindness. Over a longer amount of time, this increased blood pressure can hurt the brain and lead to a stroke.

These quick changes in blood pressure are also linked to Parkinson’s disease. This is a nerve disorder that causes your system to shut down, affecting how you move and speak.

Your Heart

The high blood pressure we mentioned in the last section has a direct effect on your heart health.

People who binge drink or abuse alcohol put themselves at risk of a heart attack. It can also cause blood clots, irregular heartbeats, and cardiomyopathy.

Cardiomyopathy is the stretching and drooping of heart muscles. This will make it harder for your body to pump blood and leads to heart failure.

Your Pancreas

The pancreas is one of those organs you might have heard of, but you’re not sure what it does. It plays a huge role in converting the food we eat into energy. It also regulates blood sugar and is linked to diabetes.

Too much alcohol causes your pancreas to produce toxic substances. This leads to inflammation, which becomes pancreatitis.

If your pancreas is out of order, your body won’t receive the vitamins it needs to survive.

How to Treat the Physiological Effects of Alcohol

You can reverse most of these physiological effects of alcohol. To do this, you’ll need to abstain. This can look like a medical detox, which takes place with medical staff.

The length of a medical detox can vary. It depends on your health and how long you’ve used alcohol. The process can be painful and very difficult. That’s why we recommend signing up with a counseling program to help with detox.

Looking for Substance Abuse Resources?

If you’re worried about the physiological effects of alcohol, then check out our blog. We have a lot of resources to help you on your path towards recovery.

You can also contact us here with any questions or concerns. We want to help you get the treatment you need to overcome substance abuse.

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