Effects Of Alcohol

The effects of alcohol take place on many parts of the central nervous system. The effects of alcohol change and effect the reticular formation, spinal cord, cerebellum and cerebral cortex, and many neurotransmitter systems. What about the effects of alcohol on the individual as a whole?

A Breakdown of the Effects of Alcohol

In low doses, alcohol's effects produce:

  • a relaxing effect
  • reduces tension
  • lowers inhibitions
  • impairs concentration
  • slows reflexes
  • impairs reaction time
  • reduces coordination

    In medium doses, alcohol's effects produce:

  • slur speech
  • cause drowsiness
  • alter emotions

    In high doses, alcohol's effects produce:

  • vomiting
  • breathing difficulties
  • unconsciousness
  • coma
  • death

    Some of the neurochemical effects of alcohol are:

  • Increased turnover of norepinephrine and dopamine
  • Decreased transmission in acetylcholine systems
  • Increased transmission in GABA systems
  • Increased production of beta-endorphin in the hypothalamus

    The chronic effects of alcohol use can:

  • Damage the frontal lobes of the brain
  • Cause an overall reduction in brain size and increase in the size of the ventricles.
  • Lead to alcoholism (addiction to alcohol) and result in tolerance to the effects of alcohol and variety of health problems.
  • Cause a vitamin deficiency. Because the digestion system of alcoholics is unable to absorb vitamin B-1 (thiamine), a syndrome known as "Wernicke's Encephalopathy" may develop. This syndrome is characterized by impaired memory, confusion and lack of coordination. Further deficiencies of thiamine can lead to "Korsakoff's Syndrome". This disorder is characterized by amnesia, apathy and disorientation. Widespread disease of the brain is a feature of both Wernicke's and Korsakoff's Syndromes.

Chronic drinking can lead to dependence and addiction to alcohol and to additional neurological problems. Typical symptoms of withholding alcohol from someone who is addicted to it are shaking (tremors), sleep problems and nausea. More severe withdrawal symptoms include hallucinations and even seizures.

The Effects of Alcohol on Pregnant Women

Alcohol use effects pregnant women heavily. One very dangerous effect of alcohol is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Inside the mother, a fetus is fed through the placenta. Because alcohol easily passes through the placenta, every time the mother drinks alcohol, the developing fetus gets a dose of alcohol. Alcohol disrupts normal brain development. Fetal exposure to alcohol can impair the development of the corpus callosum (the main connection between the right and left hemispheres of the brain) and reduce the size of the basal ganglia.

Alcohol's effect on babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome range from having smaller heads and brains, varying degrees of mental retardation, poor coordination, hyperactivity, to abnormal facial features. Moderate alcohol drinking by a mother during pregnancy may also lower the child's IQ. How alcohol causes these effects is not known. Perhaps alcohol affects the placenta in some way to alter the blood flow to the fetus. It is also unclear how much alcohol is necessary to cause these effects. Many pregnant women avoid alcohol completely...this seems to be the safest choice.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Liver

Alcohol-induced liver disease (ALD) is a major cause of illness and death in the United States. Fatty liver, the most common form of ALD, is reversible with abstinence. More serious ALD includes alcoholic hepatitis, characterized by persistent inflammation of the liver, and cirrhosis, characterized by progressive scarring of liver tissue. Either condition can be fatal, and treatment options are limited. During the past 5 years, research has significantly increased our understanding of the mechanisms by which alcohol consumption damages the liver.

To many people, cirrhosis of the liver is synonymous with chronic alcoholism, but in fact, alcoholism is only one of the causes. Alcoholic cirrhosis usually develops after more than a decade of heavy drinking. The amount of alcohol that can injure the liver varies greatly from person to person. In women, as few as two to three drinks per day have been linked with cirrhosis and in men, as few as three to four drinks per day. Alcohol seems to injure the liver by blocking the normal metabolism of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. French researchers have found that wine drinkers are just as much at risk for developing cirrhosis of the liver as those who drink liquor and beer in spite of previous studies to the contrary.

The Short Term Effects of Alcohol

  • Slower reaction times and reflexes.
  • Heavy sweating.
  • Blurry or double vision.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Lowered reasoning ability.
  • Lower inhibitions (doing or saying things you otherwise would not.)
  • Poor motor coordination.
  • Inability to drive a car.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Slowed breathing rate.
  • Reduced blood pressure.
  • Anxiety, restlessness.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Memory loss.
  • Coma
  • Death from respiratory arrest.
The Long Term Effects of Alcohol
  • Nervous System: Tingling and loss of sensation in hands and feet
  • Muscles: Weakness and loss of muscle tissue
  • Lungs: Greater change of chest infections
  • Liver: Liver damage including cirrhosis, hepatitis, and increased risk of liver cancer
  • Pancreas: Pancreatitis
  • Sexual Organs:
    • Males: impotence and decreased sperm count
    • Females: irregular periods, reproductive problems, pregnancy and birth problems
  • Brain: Brain cell damage, loss of memory, confusion, disturbed sleep pattern
  • Breasts: Increased risk of breast cancer
  • Heart: High blood pressure and enlarged heart
  • Skin: Red nose and cheeks, increased perspiration
  • Stomach: Inflammation, bleeding, and ulcers
  • Intestines: Inflamed lining and ulcers
  • Blood: Changes in red blood cells
  • Hands and Feet: "Pins and Needles" and loss of sensation
  • Drug Facts
  • Methadone mimics many of the effects of opiates such as heroin.
  • The short-term physiological effects of cocaine include constricted blood vessels; dilated pupils; and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.
  • The effects of alcohol are experienced differently for each individual depending on their size, sex, body build, and metabolism.
  • Some of the most frequent complications due to cocaine use are cardiovascular effects, including disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks; such respiratory effects as chest pain and respiratory failure; neurological effects, including strokes and seizures.
  • Crystal meth effects are similar to those of cocaine but with more power and intensity.