Who is most prone to developing alcohol dependence?
There are several factors that influence the extent to which alcohol affects the brain, such as the frequency and quantity of alcohol intake, at what age a person started drinking and how long they have been drinking, their gender, genetic background, family history of alcoholism, whether they were exposed to alcohol in the prenatal period, as well as the person’s general health status.
The effects of alcohol on the brain
Here are the possible consequences of drinking larger amounts of alcohol, chronically and for a longer period of time:
1. Altered brain chemistry.
Alcohol is a depressant and affects the chemicals that transmit signals from one neuron of the brain to another, also called neurotransmitters. Alcohol depresses the part of our brain associated with inhibition and that’s how it produces those relaxed, more confident and less anxious feelings. Long term drinking leads to chemical changes in the brain that can actually produce negative emotional response such as anger, aggression, anxiety, depression, etc.
2. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
Also known as “wet brain”, this is a condition of brain damage that is characterized by severe amnesia, confabulation, and dementia. Although it’s not caused directly by alcohol’s effects on the brain, but by severe deficiency of Thiamine or Vitamin B1 – which can be caused by alcohol dependence. Alcohol tends to block absorption of thiamine by the human body and when deprived of thiamine, the brain cells begin to die. Actually, the fist brain cells to die out are those which require the most thiamine to function (mainly located in the middle of the brain). These brain cells are generally associated with memory and muscular movement. If left untreated the condition can lead to loss of past memories, inability to learn new things, confabulation (remembering things which never happened), lack of coordination and unsteady gait, and in severe cases dementia.
3. Hepatic Encephalopathy.
Cirrhosis and hepatitis are well known side effects of prolonged alcohol consumption. But these conditions if left untreated and if a person continues drinking despite feeling the negative health effects can lead to liver failure, which in turn can result in hepatic encephalopathy. It’s a damage to the brain caused by the toxins like amonia and manganese who can cross the blood-brain barrier. Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy include lethargy, apathy, disorientation, inappropriate behavior, and slurred speech. In severe cases there may be coma.
Long term effects of alcoholism on the brain questions
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