24 May The Mental Effects of Alcohol
Nearly a third of the US population falls under the criteria of alcoholism or will fall under it during their lifetime. Alcohol use is extremely common in the United States, with roughly 85% of the population saying that they have drunk alcohol at some point during their life. Over 25% say that they have done binge drinking in the last month. Binge drinking is characterized by getting a blood alcohol level of 0.08, which is legally drunk in the United States.
Alcohol is socially acceptable in most parts of the world, and some places don’t particularly frown on heavy alcohol use either. However, heavy long-term alcohol use can have very negative effects on mental health and physical health. It can also lead to addiction or exacerbate other mental health conditions.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain?
The human brain is a complex and relatively fragile organ that requires a precise chemical balance to function correctly. Being intoxicated with alcohol disrupts this balance. If you use alcohol chronically and long-term, your brain has to adapt to compensate for the mental effects of alcohol.
One of the most alarming effects of alcohol on the brain is the development of mental dependence. This is a state of dependence that causes physical and mental withdrawal symptoms if alcohol use is reduced or ceased entirely. Alcohol dependence can cause alcoholism, which is a brain disease that causes a person to drink compulsively and be unable to control or stop their drinking. Even when alcoholism causes negative effects in their lives, they won’t typically be able to stop using it on their own.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol On The Brain
One of the main short-term effects of alcohol on the brain is alcohol intoxication. Various symptoms come from alcohol intoxication, which depends on how much the person drinks, their body size and makeup, and how often they drink in general. Symptoms of intoxication can start to appear after only one or two drinks, depending on the drink and the person.
The immediate effects of alcohol on the brain are caused by its effect on the brain’s ability to communicate and process information. Drinking heavily or too quickly can cause a number of negative mental effects, including confusion, impaired motor skills, and a delay in making decisions. If you continue drinking despite the appearance of these symptoms, you put yourself at risk for alcohol poisoning. Alcohol overdose or poisoning is a dangerous situation and may include the following symptoms:
• Loss of consciousness
• Slowed respiratory rate and heart rate
• Cognitive impairment
Alcohol poisoning can also cause permanent damage to your cognitive abilities.
Long Term Effects of Alcohol On The Brain
Some of the effects of alcohol on the brain will fade after someone stops drinking or gets treatment for alcoholism and is able to stay sober. However, other physical and mental effects may persist for a long time. Drinking heavily causes an increased risk for a number of physical problems. This is especially true if you drink heavily over a long period of time. Some of these problems include the following:
• Liver failure
• Heart disease
• Digestive problems
• Weakened immune system
• Mood and sleep disturbances
• Mental health issues like anxiety and depression
The effects of alcohol on the brain can cause lasting harm and even cause the hippocampus area of your brain to shrink. According to a study by the University of Oxford, people who consumed four or more alcoholic drinks per day had a risk of hippocampus shrinkage that was six times as high as non-drinkers. Moderate drinkers also showed some amount of hippocampus shrinkage vs. non-drinkers. The level of shrinkage generally corresponded with the level of alcohol consumption from the participants in the study.
People with long-term alcoholism are also at risk for thiamine deficiency. This deficiency can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is commonly called wet brain. This is a condition where a person experiences mental confusion, disturbance in eye movement, reduced coordination, and difficulty learning or remembering.
Alcohol use disorder is another one of the negative effects of alcohol on the brain that happens after chronic or long-time use. This is the more formal term for what is usually called alcoholism. Alcoholism is a compulsive and repetitive pattern of alcohol abuse that continues despite negative consequences for the addicted person. Those consequences might include failing health, job loss, legal problems, and broken relationships.
How Does a Mental Health Professional Diagnose Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is thrown around a lot as a casual term to refer to anyone who appears to drink a lot or gets drunk often. However, a mental health professional must use a specific set of criteria to formally diagnose someone with alcoholism. For someone to be diagnosed with alcoholism, they must meet at least two of the following 11 criteria within the span of one year:
• Alcohol cravings
• Drinking in risky situations such as while driving
• Continuing to drink alcohol despite relationship problems
• Neglecting responsibilities at home or work due to drinking
• Drinking more alcohol more frequently than you intended
• Developing a tolerance to alcohol and needing more to feel an effect
• Trying and failing to cut down on drinking
• Continuing to drink despite physical and mental health problems
• Abandoning things you once liked in order to drink more
• Alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you reduce or stop drinking
• Spending a large amount of time trying to get alcohol
As you can see from this list, any two items can easily indicate a pattern of problematic use. Meeting over two items in this list is very likely to indicate the presence of alcoholism.
As previously mentioned, drinking alcohol is very common and socially acceptable in the United States. In 2018, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly 140 million Americans over the age of 12 were regularly drinking alcohol. About 67 million engaged in binge drinking in the last month, and over 16 million drank enough to be considered heavy drinkers. Binge drinking is when you drink enough to put your blood alcohol content (BAC) up to 0.08 in one session of drinking. In 2018, over 14 million adults of the age 18 and older reportedly had an alcohol use disorder.
In other words, you’re not alone if you’re struggling to quit or reduce your consumption of alcohol. It can be difficult to do by yourself without help.
New Method Wellness is a dual diagnosis treatment center specializing in the treatment of addiction and mental health issues. Dual diagnosis treatment is important for anyone suffering from both addiction and another mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. Call us today to find out more about the mental effects of alcohol and how our dual diagnosis treatment programs can help.