Effects of alcohol
How does alcohol affect the brain?
Alcohol affects lots of parts of the brain. As your alcohol intake increases, the more the brain is affected.
The cerebral cortex processes thoughts and controls muscle movements. When this area of the brain is affected by alcohol, we become more talkative, self confident and less socially inhibited.
Information from our senses is also slowed down, so we have trouble seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting. Our threshold for pain becomes higher. Thought processes become inhibited so we can no longer use good judgement or think clearly.
"The more we drink, the more obvious these symptoms become".
The limbic system controls emotions and memory. As alcohol affects this system, we experience memory loss and our emotions are exaggerated (elation, anger, isolation).
The cerebellum controls fine movements. For example, you can normally touch your finger to your nose in one smooth motion with your eyes closed but after a few drinks, this movement becomes shaky or jerky. The more alcohol we drink, the more muscle movements become uncoordinated and our balance is affected to the point we might even fall down drunk.
Alcohol depresses the nerve centres in the hypothalamus that control sexual arousal and performance. As the alcohol in your blood increases, sexual behaviour increases, but sexual performance declines. Alcohol also prevents the kidneys from functioning properly, causing them to produce more urine.
The medulla controls or influences all of the bodily functions that you don’t have to think about, like breathing, heart rate, temperature and consciousness.
If the alcohol in your blood gets high enough, you will start to feel sleepy and may eventually fall unconscious.
If the alcohol concentration in the blood gets high enough to influence breathing, heart rate and temperature, a person will start to breathe very slowly or stop breathing altogether, and both blood pressure and body temperature will fall. These conditions can be fatal. Read about the Dangers of binge drinking.
How does alcohol affect the body?
As well as the brain, alcohol affects other parts of the body. If you drink faster than your liver can process the alcohol (one unit per hour), you will experience the following symptoms:
- The linings of your stomach and intestine become irritated, leading to feeling sick and vomiting.
- The blood flow to the stomach and intestines is increased, causing acid secretion.
- Blood flow to the skin is also increased, causing you sweat and look flushed.
- Sweating causes the body to lose heat and your temperature may actually fall below normal. This is why people can catch hypothermia after leaving a pub and being in the cold for a sustained length of time.
Reduced blood flow to muscles - this can lead to muscle aches especially when we’re recovering from alcohol. Muscle ache is one of the classic symptoms of a hangover. Read more about alcohol and the body.