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How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain? ARBD Explained

Nicholas Conn
Nicholas Conn

Nicholas is a leading addiction expert UK's go-to man on related matters for the national press, TV and radio.

How does alcohol affect the brain? ARBD explained

Alcohol is enjoyed around the world across many different cultures – however, what some people don’t know, is the negative effects it has on the human brain.

While moderate consumption may seem harmless, excessive or prolonged alcohol intake can lead to serious neurological consequences.

One condition is Alcohol-Related Brain Damage (ARBD), which contains a range of cognitive impairments resulting from alcohol abuse.

Understanding how alcohol affects the brain is crucial for recognising the signs of ARBD and implementing preventive measures. For more information on how alcohol affects the brain and what you can do to prevent this, read on.


What Happens When You Drink Alcohol?

When you consume alcohol, it quickly enters the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier, affecting various neurotransmitter systems.

One of the primary neurotransmitters influenced by alcohol is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which affects neuronal activity, leading to the sedative effects commonly associated with alcohol consumption.

Alcohol also suppresses the activity of glutamate, a neurotransmitter, further contributing to its depressant effects on the central nervous system.

Repeated exposure to alcohol can disrupt the fragile balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to structural and functional changes. Chronic alcohol abuse can result in:

  • Neuronal damage
  • Shrinkage of brain tissue
  • Impaired communication between brain regions

Alcohol has a noticeable impact on the hippocampus, a brain region crucial for learning and memory. Prolonged alcohol consumption can affect neurogenesis, the process of generating new neurons in the hippocampus, therefore affecting cognitive function.

Additionally, alcohol-related toxicity can cause oxidative stress and inflammation, further aggravating neuronal damage and cognitive decline.


Who is at a High Risk of Developing ARBD?

If you engage in chronic, heavy alcohol consumption, you are at a high risk of developing Alcohol-Related Brain Damage (ARBD).

This also applies to you if you regularly consume large quantities of alcohol over an extended period, often exceeding recommended limits for safe drinking. Factors that increase the risk of ARBD include:


1: Quantity and Frequency of Alcohol Consumption

The more alcohol a person consumes and the longer they engage in heavy drinking, the greater their risk of developing ARBD. Binge drinking, also known as consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time, also poses a significant risk.


2: Duration of Alcohol Abuse

Long-term alcohol addiction, typically over several years or decades, can result in cumulative neurological damage and increase the likelihood of ARBD.


3: Nutritional Deficiencies

Chronic alcoholism often leads to poor nutrition, including deficiencies in essential vitamins such as thiamine (vitamin B1). Thiamine deficiency is closely associated with conditions like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a severe form of ARBD.


4: Individual Vulnerability

Genetic factors, co-occurring mental health disorders, and socioeconomic factors can also influence your susceptibility to ARBD. Additionally, older adults may be at a higher risk due to age-related changes in metabolism and decreased resilience of the brain.

Overall, if you are dependent on alcohol and consistently consume too much, particularly over an extended period, are at the highest risk of developing ARBD and related cognitive impairments.


What Conditions Can be Caused by ARBD?

ARBD can cause a range of different brain conditions, including:

  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS)
  • Alcoholic dementia
  • Alcohol-induced persistent amnestic disorder

WKS is displayed by symptoms such as confusion, ataxia, and memory loss, results from thiamine deficiency, which is common in chronic alcoholics due to poor nutrition.

If left untreated, WKS can progress to Korsakoff’s psychosis, a severe form of ARBD marked by memory impairment and confabulation.

Alcoholic dementia is also caused by ARBD and shares similarities with other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

However, alcoholic dementia typically presents with a rapid onset and is associated with heavy, long-term alcohol consumption. Symptoms include impaired executive function, language difficulties, and behavioural changes, significantly impacting daily functioning.

Alcohol-induced persistent amnestic disorder, also known as alcohol-related blackout, refers to episodes of memory loss caused by acute alcohol intoxication. During a blackout, individuals may engage in activities they can’t remember, leading to social and legal consequences.

While blackouts only last for a short amount of time, repeated episodes can indicate underlying neurocognitive impairment and increase the risk of developing ARBD.


How Can You Prevent ARBD From Developing?

First of all, promoting responsible alcohol use and addressing the risk factors associated with alcohol abuse can help prevent ARBD.

Education campaigns can help you understand the risks of drinking too much. Getting help early for alcohol problems is important.

Treatments like therapy and nutrition can improve brain damage from alcohol. Also, dealing with mental health issues like depression is important for overall treatment.


Prevent ARBD With Rehab Centres UK

In conclusion, alcohol has negative effects on the brain, ranging from acute intoxication to chronic neurological damage.

ARBD represents a spectrum of cognitive impairments caused by prolonged alcohol abuse, with negative effects for your quality of life.

When you understand alcohol’s impact on the brain cells and recognise the signs of ARBD, you can work towards preventing and managing this condition.

Here at Rehab Centres UK, we can help connect you with rehab clinics to help you overcome your alcohol addiction. The alcohol rehabilitation programme is designed for those who are addicted to alcohol.

During your alcohol rehabilitation sessions, you will learn coping skills, stress management and relaxation techniques to help you resist cravings and prevent ARBD from occurring.

The first step in alcohol rehab is to detoxify the body from any alcohol that may be present during the time of admission.

It is important to remember that you are not alone, and we are here to help. We understand how challenging it is to stop drinking, but by taking it one step at a time and joining an alcohol counselling programme, you are one step closer to becoming alcohol-free.

For more information on the services we offer or to start your rehabilitation journey today, contact us at 0808 175 7225. We look forward to helping you or your loved ones.

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If you are looking for rehab for your addiction, contact our 24/7 support line for help at 0808 175 7225 today.