Alcohol’s Affect on the Brain  


In order to understand the effects of alcohol on the brain, it is necessary to be familiar with the fundamentals of how the brain works.  The largest section of the brain is the cerebrum, which makes up about 85% of the weight of the brain.  The cerebrum is responsible for controlling the body’s movements,  thoughts, short-term and long-term memory, and reasoning. The right side of the cerebrum controls the left side of the body, the left side controls the right side of the body.  It is believed that the right side of the cerebrum is responsible for abstract thinking and the left side controls more analytical thinking.  The small portion of the brain at the back is called the cerebellum and is about 1/8th the size of the cerebrum.  The cerebellum controls balance and coordination.  Beneath the cerebrum and in front of the cerebellum lies the brain stem, responsible for the body’s functions, such as, breathing, digestion, blood circulation, and heart beat. The pituitary gland is about the size of a pea, and controls metabolism and the release of hormones. The hypothalamus is like the body’s thermostat, and the nerves that travel down the spinal cord are the way the brain sends signals to the rest of the body.  The neurotransmitter sends the message, and the neuron receives the electrical signal at the receptor. 


Alcohol can wreak havoc with all parts of the brain.  Excessive alcohol usage can result in memory loss and cognition problems, and because normal neurotransmission can be altered by the consumption of alcohol, drinking can negatively affect the bodies’ reaction time. 


When alcohol travels through the cerebral cortex, the results can include poor judgment, becoming unreasonably confident, and a dulling of the senses.  The affect of alcohol on the cerebellum is a distortion of the nerve impulses that are sent from it, which causes a lack of coordination.  Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system, which can negatively influence ability to speak, alertness, the emotions, and, when ingested at high levels, can cause vomiting, difficulty in breathing, and even coma.  When abuse of alcohol occurs the results can include: damage to the brain, reduction in the size of the brain, a vitamin deficiency that can lead to dangerous diseases of the brain. 


Obviously, because alcohol changes the way the brain functions, driving while drinking is never acceptable.  Drinking during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which disrupts normal brain development in the fetus. 


The amount a person drinks, how often a person drinks, the age when a person begins drinking, the person’s genetic make-up, and the health status of the drinker are all factors which can effect the amount of damage which will occur to the brain from alcohol.  Careful consideration should be taken when deciding whether or not to consume alcohol.