Alcohol: How it works with the brain
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 16:09
When alcohol is consumed, it works to depress the central nervous system, which in turn means that all functions entering and exiting the central nervous system will decrease.
The central nervous system (CNS) is composed of the brain, spinal cord and billions of nerve cells.
The CNS functions in the collection of information from senses, motor functions, thought process, and emotions.
The brain is protected by the skull, and the spinal cord is protected by a series of bones, known as the vertebrae, composing the spinal column.
The portion of the nervous system outside of the central nervous system is also affected.
The surrounding nervous system is known as the peripheral nervous system, which includes the nerve cells composing the nerves that travel throughout the body.
The CNS is most affected by alcohol consumption, and is especially reactive to the movement of alcohol into the blood stream.
Once the alcohol reaches the nerve cells, they are influenced immediately. The first areas of the brain affected by alcohol are those guarding inhibitions, level of reserve and communication standards. But, while all the previously mentioned effects are occurring, the opposite effects are gradually taking place.
Such decreased effects include fluent speech, thought processes, vision, reaction time, hearing, and muscle recovery.
The degree to which these effects are produced is dependent on several factors, involving amount of alcohol consumed, drugs present in the body, size, weight, sex and genes.
Alcohol initially acts as a stimulant, but soon leads to the production of sedative effects over time. Norepinephrine production will also increase, leading to increased excitement.
The body views alcohol as a poison, causing the production of a special alcohol enzyme to fight the poison.
The enzyme removes the hydrogen from the alcohol to produce acetalhyde, which is a non-poisonous chemical.
The body will then use the acetalhyde enzyme to rid the body of any remaining alcohol.
The resulting effect is commonly known as a hangover, to rid the body of the residual alcohol poison.
A full meal will help with the breakdown of alcohol.
The acetalhyde enzyme has an increased amount of time to break down the alcohol.
But without a full stomach, the alcohol is able to reach the small intestine faster, where it will then be absorbed into the blood stream at an increased rate.
When alcohol is combined with certain prescription drugs, alcohol will increase the effects of such medications, and will further impair process enacted by the nervous system.
Examples of common medications include those used to treat bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder and depression.
If aspirin is taken before alcohol consumption, it will reduce the effectiveness of the body to get rid of the alcohol, while further increasing hangover presence.
When people continue to drink alcohol in large amounts, over extended periods of time, the brain develops a tolerance for alcohol.
The brain cells become less receptive to alcohol, and refuse to depress to produce the normal effects of alcohol.
As the amount of alcohol consumption increases, blood alcohol content ascends upwards. When a blood alcohol content value of 0.3-0.4 is reached, a person will pass out.
So much alcohol can be consumed that it can cause a complete shutdown of the nervous system.