Alcohol use has a wide range of short and long-term effects on the body and the mind, from euphoria and drowsiness to memory loss and brain damage. Which effects are felt depend on variables ranging from personal tolerance and the quantity of alcohol consumed, to time frame; consuming a large number of drinks in a single day will have a different result than consuming one drink a day for a number of days.
Effects of Alcohol in the Short Term
The short-term effects of alcohol consumption are the ones that most people are familiar with—what we think of when someone is described as being inebriated or “drunk.” Short-term effects include euphoria, slurred speech, drowsiness, impaired judgment, distorted vision and hearing, and can also include side effects like vomiting and blackouts. Headaches are another short-term effect of alcohol consumption, and usually come along with hangovers the next day.
More Effects of Alcohol Consumption On Health
The long-term effects of alcohol consumption are less well known, but can be severe. Many of the long-term effects of alcohol only manifest with habitual use, and they can affect different aspects of the body and the brain with varying consequences.
Studies have found that alcohol makes you fall asleep faster and also increases the amount of deep sleep (also known as “slow wave sleep”) that you experience. However, alcohol also reduces the amount of REM sleep (the part of sleep during which you dream) that you get, which can have a negative impact on concentration, motor skills, and memory. Also, increased deep sleep can make you more susceptible to certain sleep related disorders such as sleepwalking and sleep apnea.
Long-term alcohol abuse can cause inflammation of the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver fibrosis, or scarring of the liver. Approximately 20-30% of the population has a genetic predisposition for cirrhosis of the liver, so knowing your family clinical history can help you to make responsible drinking decisions. Women are also more likely to develop liver disease from heavy drinking than men.
Alcohol abuse can cause significant changes in brain structure and function, especially in younger drinkers. Behavioral symptoms can include impaired learning and memory loss, while physical symptoms include shrinking of the brain and changes to white matter tracts. The damage is generally done to the hippocampus and front structures of the brain, which aren’t formed completely until the age of 25.
Long-term alcohol abuse can even lead to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, a condition marked by the weakening of the heart muscle, which leads to a failure to pump blood efficiently.
Most women know that they shouldn’t drink when they’re pregnant. Alcohol can have detrimental effects on fetal development, particularly the nervous system. These effects may be related to changes in cyclin-dependent kinase 5, which is associated with synaptic plasticity, and can result in impaired learning and memory, as well as other cognitive functions. Alcohol abuse can have a range of adverse effects on your life and health; if you or someone you know has an alcohol problem then the best thing to do is seek help immediately.
Having a Nightcap of Alcohol Does Affect Sleep
Many people enjoy a “nightcap” before going to bed. Traditional nightcaps include brandy, bourbon, or cream-based liqueurs, though some people drink wine or beer or just about any other alcoholic beverage before bed as well. The New York Times has even published some “rules” to help you pick the right nightcap. The question is, though, does alcohol consumption before bed actually improve your chances of a good night’s sleep?
Alcohol Has Negative Effect on Sleeping
Recently, the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism have conducted a review of all known studies on the impact of drinking on sleep, the results of which will be published in the official journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. According to a New York Times’ article, the review finds that while alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly and may lead to deeper sleep at the start of the night, it isn’t actually useful for improving a whole night’s sleep.
The review shows that any amount of alcohol consumption leads to an immediate reduction in the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. It also leads to deeper sleep for the first part of the night, with higher doses leading to even deeper sleep yet. However, these benefits are offset by increased disruption in the second part of the night’s sleep, and less REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep influences memory and cognitive abilities, and a lack of sufficient REM sleep can lead to a reduction in motor skills, concentration, and memory. Alcohol consumption greatly delays the onset of the first period of REM sleep in a night, as well as reducing the total amount of REM sleep. Delayed and reduced REM sleep has been linked to less restful sleep, stress, and even depression.
Alcohol Effects the Brain
Even the deeper early sleep may prove problematic for some individuals. The majority of studies show an increase in slow-wave sleep (the deepest sleep) in the first part of the night. This increase in slow-wave sleep may also lead to an increased likelihood of sleep problems like sleep apnea or sleepwalking, as well as promoting snoring and poor breathing. For the most part, the review finds that, while many people use alcohol as a sleep aid, a nightcap really only provides an illusion of improving sleep. Though you may fall asleep more quickly and easily, your total sleep will be less restful, and you open yourself up to other possible risks.
The Effect of Alcohol on Sleep, is one of many resources designed to help those seeking an advanced approach to treatment for alcohol or drug abuse.
The use and abuse of alcohol has a variety of wide-ranging short and long-term effects on health, from the obvious side-effects of drunkenness and hangover, to increased risk of serious diseases such as cardiomyopathy and cirrhosis of the liver. One of the most complex points of interaction between alcohol and the body is in one of the body’s most complex organs: the brain.
The exact effect of alcohol on the brain is a mystery that is still being unraveled, but as our knowledge of alcohol’s effects on the brain continues to grow, we become better able to treat and understand the effects of alcoholism and alcohol abuse.
Alcohol Effects Memory and Cognitive Function
Alcohol’s effects on the brain are the subject of much study, and new data is being unearthed every day as to the exact nature of the interaction between alcohol consumption and the human brain. Alcohol abuse is linked to brain damage in the form of both brain lesions and shrinkage of the brain, and can manifest in loss of memory and cognitive function. Alcohol is known to promote inflammation in the brain, and also to inhibit hippocampal function and neurological development, especially in adolescents and young adults.
- Brain Damage
Alcohol is linked to brain damage, in the form of brain lesions and shrinkage of the brain. Studies have found that alcoholics have significantly lower volumes of gray and white matter than non-alcoholics. This is believed to not only be due to the toxic effects of alcohol on brain chemistry, but also to factors such as withdrawal, nutrition deficiency, and electrolyte disturbances.
- Neuroinflammation & Hippocampal Inhibition
Alcohol can trigger the activation of astroglial cells, which in turn produce an inflammatory response in the brain. Excessive intake of alcohol can also cause inhibition of hippocampal processes, such as decreases in neural stem cell proliferation and the expression of dopamine receptors.
- Effects on Sleep
While alcohol consumption may make you fall asleep faster and increase the amount of “slow wave” or deep sleep that you experience, it also reduces the amount of REM or dreaming sleep, which can have a negative impact on concentration, motor skills, and memory.
- Neurological Development
Alcohol affects the brain at every stage in life, but the most damaging of alcohol’s effects on the brain tend to happen with adolescence. The hippocampus and front structures of the brain are not fully formed until around the age of 25, and significant drinking among children and young adults can lead to cognitive deficits that can last into adulthood, including loss of memory, learning impairments, and a lack of visuospatial skills.