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09-07 Alcoholism’s neurological and chemical effect on the brain

Posted in alcohol rehab, Recovery

Alcoholism’s neurological and chemical effect on the brain

Alcohol is commonly classified as a separate substance from other drugs, but it is still a chemical compound with mind-altering effects. As a neurotoxic and psychoactive drug, its primary ingredient ethanol can evoke a variety of symptoms. By manipulating the mind, it also gives rise to physical, emotional and behavioral impacts as well. Learning exactly how that process takes place can provide vital clues to understanding how addiction starts and takes hold over a person’s life.

In a summary from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the equilibrium that the human body and brain maintain allows vital functions to perform without any obstacles. When an individual consumes alcohol, this balance is disrupted and increases the activity of inhibitory neurotransmitters such as GABA, which delays or completely stops nerve signals. As alcohol use leads to intoxication, these changes in brain chemistry are responsible for the distinct effects of this state of mind and behavior, including sleepiness and sedation. As the dosage of substance use increases, the body begins adapting to alcohol’s sluggish response by increasing the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters in a natural attempt to restore its homeostasis, also known as tolerance. Once the body reaches a new balance, if alcohol is removed, it will lead to withdrawal.

In the 1984 study, “Event-related brain potentials in boys at risk for alcoholism,” researcher Henri Begleiter and colleagues used one of the newest technological methods of scientific observation, event-related potentials (ERP), and identified the initial signs that are observable in the nervous system circuitry of alcoholics and their children. For example, the scientists found that specific brain waves such as P300 are uniquely lower in people at risk for alcoholism. Also, other indicators associated with alcoholism also are found in various mental health disorders, including drug use disorders, antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Overall, this evidence showed that a genetic connection among all multiple pathologies may exist.

The NIAAA also lists the primary determinants for the amount of damage alcohol can inflict on the brain, including:

  • The amount and frequency the individual drinks
  • The age at which one initiates drinking behavior and how long the person has been drinking
  • The person’s age, education, gender, genetics and family history of alcoholism
  • The individual’s risk of prenatal alcohol exposure
  • His or her general health

If you or your offspring is struggling with a growing dependency to alcohol or another vicious substance, reach out for support. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. Call us to speak with a professional today.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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