Alcohol’s Effects in the Brain

Posted on November 11, 2017 By

Alcohol can make you laugh or it could make you cry, it can make you vibrant or make you sleepy, it can improve your confidence or make you act the fool. How can alcohol have the ability to these different effects on individuals? If we want to know how alcohol impacts our moods and behaviors we have to first understand a bit about how the brain works.

The human brain consists of about 100 billion nerve tissue (also known as neurons). Everything that people think, feel or do will be the result of electrical signals moving back and forth between neurons. These electric signals require the help associated with chemicals called neurotransmitters in purchase to pass from neuron to neuron. Scientists have identified around 60 different neurotransmitters so far and show that there are probably many more yet to become identified.

Different neurotransmitters have various effects in the brain. For example, serotonin is connected with feeling. People suffering from clinical depression generally have a shortage of serotonin in their brains, and medications such as Prozac can help to alleviate depression simply by increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain. Endorphins are a course of neurotransmitters which act as the brain’s natural painkillers.

Electrical indicators in the brain are carried in the following manner: The neuron which is sending the electric signal releases a neurotransmitter, plus the neuron which is receiving the electrical signal accepts the neurotransmitter at a site which is called a receptor. When the neurotransmitter from the first neuron chemically binds in order to the receptor of the 2nd neuron the electrical signal will be transmitted. Neurotransmitters and receptors function like locks and keys: there is certainly at least one different receptor for each various neurotransmitter. For example, an endorphin receptor can only be triggered simply by and endorphin, a serotonin receptor can only be triggered by this, and so on. Different neurons have various receptors. Some neurons will only become triggered by serotonin, some just by an endorphin, and so on for those the different neurotransmitters.

Okay–now exactly what does all of this have to do with alcohol?

Every mood altering substance from heroin to coffee has an effect on the neurotransmitter system of the brain. Some psychoactive drugs affect only one specific neurotransmitter system, whereas others affect numerous. Morphine, for example , mimics the neurotransmitter beta-endorphin–a natural painkiller found in the brain. Morphine is designed like beta-endorphin and binds in order to the beta-endorphin receptors thus performing as a painkiller and also giving increase to feelings of pleasure. Caffeine is shaped like Adenosine plus acts on the adenosine receptors. Alcohol on the other hands affects many different neurotransmitters, not just a single, Why is this?

Morphine and coffee are both large molecules. Neurotransmitters will also be large molecules. Morphine and coffee have the effects which they perform because of their similarity in shape in order to neurotransmitters which occur naturally in the brain. Alcohol on the other hand is a quite little molecule. Alcohol does not mimic the neurotransmitter. So then how does alcoholic beverages affect neurotransmitters?

Alcohol is a body fat soluble molecule. Fats (called lipids) are a major component of all cellular membranes, including the cell walls of neurons. Alcohol enters the cell membranes of neurons plus changes their properties. Receptors can be found on cell membranes and this implies that receptor properties are altered simply by the presence of alcohol. Cell membranes also control the launch of neurotransmitters and this means that the release of neurotransmitters is also impacted by the presence of alcohol.

The effects of alcohol on receptors plus neurotransmitters have been well documented for many neurotransmitters and their corresponding receptors. These effects are summarized in Table 1 .

Table 1: Alcohol’s Effect on Neurotransmitters and Receptors

  • Glutamate
    • Alcohol inhibits glutamate receptor function
    • This causes muscle relaxation, discoordination, slurred speech, shocking, memory disruption, and blackouts
    • Ether and chloroform have similar results on the glutamate system
  • GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)
    • Alcohol enhances GABA receptor function
    • This causes emotions of calm, anxiety-reduction and sleep
    • Valium has a similar effect on the GABA system
  • Dopamine
    • Alcohol boosts dopamine levels
    • This leads to exhilaration and stimulation
    • Cocaine and amphetamine have similar effects on the dopamine system
  • Endorphins
    • Alcohol boosts endorphin levels
    • This kills discomfort and leads to an endorphin “high”
    • Morphine and heroin have comparable effects on the endorphin system

Drugs like morphine or crack have been referred to as “chemical scalpels” because of their really precise effects on just one neurotransmitter system. Alcohol on the some other hand is much more like a chemical hands grenade in that it affects each and every one parts of the brain and all neurotransmitter systems. Alcohol affects all these techniques at the same time. When people drink alcohol they become vibrant and excited because alcohol boosts dopamine levels just as cocaine will, although alcohol does not raise dopamine levels anywhere near as much as crack does. When people drink alcohol these people feel calm and lose their own anxieties because alcohol makes the GABA receptors function more efficiently exactly like valium does. The reason that individuals tend to fall asleep after drinking alcohol or even taking valium is also due to this impact on the GABA receptor. And alcoholic beverages has a painkilling effect like morphine and produces a high similar to morphine because it causes a release of hormones into the brain thus increasing the endorphin levels. (Note that will the effect of morphine is different through alcohol in its mechanism–morphine imitates endorphins and binds to endorphin receptors whereas alcohol increases the amounts of the endorphins in the brain. ) Finally we arrive at glutamate. Alcohol greatly inhibits the functioning of the glutamate receptor. Glutamate is responsible for the formation of recent memories as well as for muscular coordination. It is alcohol’s effect on the glutamate receptor which leads to slurred conversation, and staggering in people who have ingested alcohol, as well as the inability to keep in mind what one did that evening when the morning after arrives. Perhaps the only positive a result of this effect on the glutamate receptor is a feeling of muscular rest. Many negative effects of alcohol for example automobile fatalities due to drunk driving are usually the result of the loss of dexterity caused by alcohol’s effect on the glutamate receptor. Even small amounts of alcoholic beverages have a major impact on coordination–so in no way, never drink and drive.

You have probably observed that alcohol has different effects on different people. Some people quickly become sleepy after consuming just a little alcohol whereas others turn out to be animated and want to just go, go, move. Research on mice suggests that this particular difference is genetic. Scientists happen to be able to breed strains of mice which usually quickly go to sleep after ingesting alcoholic beverages. They have also been able to breed strains associated with mice which become very energetic after ingesting alcohol. This highly suggests that genetics determines which neurotransmitter system is most strongly affected by alcoholic beverages in which individual. Individuals that become sleepy soon after drinking possibly have their GABA system more highly affected by alcohol. And individuals who turn out to be lively and excited after consume probably have their dopamine system the majority of strongly affected.

The effects of alcoholic beverages on the brain do not finish when alcohol is completely metabolized plus out of the system–what happens following is something called neurotransmitter come back. This rebound effect is the majority of easily illustrated if we look at what goes on to many people when they use a consume or two as a sleep help. These people often tend to awaken in the middle of the night and find themselves unable to drop back asleep. What is happening will be this–alcohol has enhanced the working of the GABA system and it has made these people feel relaxed plus sleepy. The entire time that will alcohol is present the GABA strategy is struggling to overcome the associated with alcohol and return to normal working. When all the alcohol will be finally out of the body, the GABA system overshoots the indicate and leaves people feeling stressed and wide awake. This is the reason why alcohol is not a good sleep help. Large quantities of alcohol are able to keep a person asleep longer, but consuming large quantities of alcohol provides its own negative effects. Neurotransmitter rebound appears also to be implicated in associated with hangovers such as hyper-sensitivity to gentle and in alcohol withdrawal symptoms giving rise to feelings associated with anxiety and panic and other symptoms as well.

Some medications used to treat alcohol abuse for example campral and naltrexone work simply by affecting the neurotransmitter systems. Naltrexone (also called revia) is an opioid receptor antagonist. Naltrexone works by joining to the endorphin receptors (which are sometimes also called opioid receptors) plus blocking them off so that opiates cannot bind to these receptors. Unlike opiates or endorphins naltrexone does not have any painkilling effects and no pleasurable results. Naltrexone simply blocks off the endorphin receptors so that neither opiates nor endorphins can have their painkilling or pleasurable effects. Naltrexone is extremely effective with people who use opiates such as morphine or heroin given that these drugs have no effect in any way when the receptors are obstructed by naltrexone. Naltrexone has some impact in helping people to abstain from alcoholic beverages or to moderate their use, nevertheless it is not as effective with alcoholic beverages as with opiates because alcohol impacts many different neurotransmitters. The downside of naltrexone is that the body’s natural pain relievers, the endorphins, are unable to do their job if it is present. People taking naltrexone should wear medic-alert bracelets so that physicians will know that painkillers are inadequate on these people.

Campral (also called acamprosate) is a glutamate receptor modulator. Campral helps eliminate cravings regarding alcohol in long term heavy consumers. It is hypothesized that long phrase heavy drinking upsets the glutamate neurotransmitter system and that campral helps you to restore this to normal.

No conversation of alcohol and the mind would be complete without a mention of feasible brain damage caused by alcohol abuse. It is likely that we have all heard that will drinking kills brain cells. However, does scientific evidence bear out there this common folk saying? The 1993 study by Jensen plus Pakkenberg published in Lancet entitled “Do alcoholics drink their neurons away?” compared the brains associated with alcoholics to the brains associated with non-alcoholics. This study found that will the white matter of the brains of alcoholics was considerably depleted. The gray matter, nevertheless , was the same in each alcoholics and non-alcoholics. This will be interesting since it is the grey matter that does the considering. The gray matter has been in comparison to a network of computers, plus the white matter to the cables linking them together. The brain does not produce new grey matter to replace that which is dropped. The brain can, however , generate new white matter to replace whitened matter which has been lost. The experts concluded that loss of white matter perform to heavy drinking may possibly not really constitute irreparable damage.

There will be, however , a form of irreparable brain harm which can be caused by long term heavy consuming. This is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, also referred to as “wet brain”. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndromeis not the result of a loss of brain cells–it is the result of a deficiency of vitamin B1 (also called thiamine). Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome can have a number of causes including extreme malnutrition, extented periods of vomiting due to early morning sickness or an eating problem, kidney dialysis, stomach stapling, or even alcohol abuse. The vast majority of situations of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome which happen in the United States result from severe, long-term, heavy drinking. Alcohol can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome because it obstructs the absorption of thiamine. Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome include amnesia, inability to form new memories, misunderstandings, hallucinations, and confabulation. Some associated with the more severe symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome can be treated with thiamine, however in most cases many of the symptoms continue for a lifetime.

Have scientists discovered anything that there is to know about alcohol’s effects upon the brain? It seems that this really is clearly not the case. Scientists believe that alcohol likely affects a lot more neurotransmitters than the four talked about in this article. There is continuous and ongoing research to discover exactly how alcohol might affect other neurotransmitters. The future is likely to bring all of us much new knowledge about alcohol plus the brain.

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