Alcohol: Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and the Brain PMC

Emotional changes have direct social and interpersonal significance (Kornreich et al. 2002). The abnormalities in emotional perception have been attributed to a combination of underlying factors, e.g., visuospatial deficits, abnormal processing of social information, poor inhibitory control, and interpersonal stress (Moselhy et al. 2001; Philippot et al. 1999). Results of twin, family, and adoption studies have shown that hereditary factors influence vulnerability to alcoholism (Begleiter and Porjesz 1999; Dick and Foroud 2003; Schuckit et al. 2004; Whitfield et al. 2004). Additionally, the pharmacogenomics of alcohol response is well established, and genetic variants for the principal enzymes of alcohol metabolism are thought to influence drinking behavior and protect against alcoholism (Dickson et al. 2006; Enoch 2003).

Ultimately, much like other chronic diseases, addiction is preventable and treatable, but it does change one’s biology and can last a lifetime if it goes untreated. Science has come a long way in helping us understand the way the brain changes in addiction. In this section, we will provide updates of research on how the brain is impacted during addiction and recovery. The process by which presentation of a stimulus such as a drug increases the probability of a response like drug taking. Intensive meditation, even after only one day, can also affect gene regulation in your brain through similar mechanisms. Attending a monthlong meditation retreat reduces the expression of genes that affect inflammation, and experienced meditators can reduce inflammatory genes after just one day of intensive meditation.

Cerebellar structure and function

Instead, comorbid conditions deserve independent consideration, in addition to examining multivariate effects and interactions. Furthermore, as an adjunct to using symptomatology that meets criteria for a specific psychiatric diagnosis, the use of continuous measures of psychological abnormalities can yield a more accurate picture of psychiatric illness co-occurring with alcoholism (Fein et al. 2007). Different classes of chemically synthesized (hence the term synthetic) drugs have been developed, each used in different ways and having different effects in the brain. Synthetic cathinones, more commonly known as “bath salts,” target the release of dopamine in a similar manner as the stimulant drugs described above. To a lesser extent, they also activate the serotonin neurotransmitter system, which can affect perception. Synthetic cannabinoids, sometimes referred to as “K2”, “Spice”, or “herbal incense,” somewhat mimic the effects of marijuana but are often much more powerful.

Studies that follow groups of adolescents over time to learn about the developing human brain should be conducted. These studies should investigate how pre-existing neurobiological factors contribute to substance use, misuse, and addiction, and how adolescent substance use affects brain function and behavior. Remarkable developments in neuroimaging techniques have made it possible to study anatomical, functional, and biochemical changes in the brain that are caused by chronic alcohol use. Because of their precision and versatility, these techniques are invaluable for studying the extent and the dynamics of brain damage induced by heavy drinking. Because a patient’s brain can be scanned on repeated occasions, clinicians and researchers are able to track a person’s improvement with abstinence and deterioration with continued abuse.

Dec 17 How alcohol affects the brain vs drugs

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that detects electrical activity and patterns in the brain using small, flat, non-invasive metal discs (electrodes) attached to the scalp. Brain cells communicate continuously via electrical impulses, even while asleep, and this activity is shown via fluctuating lines on an EEG recording. The brain experiences pleasure from many different things we like to do in life; eating dessert, having a sexual encounter, playing a video game, etc. This pleasure is signaled through the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine (a chemical messenger present in the brain’s connected pathways) into the nucelus accumbens, which is the brain’s pleasure center. Generally, this is a positive thing, as it ensures people will receive pleasure from doing things necessary for survival.

  • During alcohol withdrawal, glutamate receptors that have adapted to the long-term presence of alcohol may become overactive, and this overactivity has been repeatedly linked to neuronal death, which is manifested by conditions such as stroke and seizures.
  • Atkinson further explained that long-term alcohol use might also cause shrinkage because alcohol is a diuretic and causes water to be removed from your body.
  • Intensive meditation, even after only one day, can also affect gene regulation in your brain through similar mechanisms.
  • This genetic choreography suggests that while your genes affect how your brain develops, which genes are turned on or off when you are learning new things is dynamic and adapts to suit your daily needs.

These dual, powerful reinforcing effects help explain why some people drink and why some people use alcohol to excess. With repeated heavy drinking, however, tolerance develops and the ability of alcohol to produce pleasure and relieve discomfort decreases. Alcoholism has devastating consequences, but not all alcoholics are equally at risk for brain changes and neurobehavioral deficits.

What do healthcare professionals who work with adolescents need to know about alcohol?

During intoxication the production of acetaldehyde can cause flushing, increased heart rate, dry mouth, nausea and headache [78]. Notably, Acetaldehyde contributes to toxic effects of chronic alcohol on the brain leading to neuronal degeneration [79]. Acetaldehyde induces cell damage and cytotoxicity by inducing DNA malfunction and protein adducts [78]. Additionally, this protein adduct formation can also induce an immune response which can further damage tissues.

  • Longitudinal studies have measured resting-state functional connectivity and neural response to cognitive tasks across time to examine the effect of alcohol and cannabis use on brain function.
  • Researchers use multiple methods to understand the etiologies and mechanisms of brain damage across subgroups of alcoholics.
  • Additionally, thiamine absorption can further be depleted by diarrhoea or vomiting which are common occurrences in alcoholism.
  • Rates of alcohol dependence have increased drastically in women and many of the harmful health effects are more severe and occur more rapidly in women [155].

We then describe evidence-based treatments you can recommend to patients to help the brain, and the patient as a whole, to recover. Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and alters its functioning, addiction changes the brain and impairs the way it works. The involvement of these reward and habit neurocircuits helps explain the intense desire for the substance (craving) and the compulsive substance seeking that occurs when actively or previously addicted individuals are exposed to alcohol and/or drug cues in their surroundings. For many people, initial substance use involves an element of impulsivity, or acting without foresight or regard for the consequences. For example, an adolescent may impulsively take a first drink, smoke a cigarette, begin experimenting with marijuana, or succumb to peer pressure to try a party drug.

Increased impulsivity is thought to be a determinant and a consequence of alcohol use [107]. At the behavioral level, alcohol intoxication has been shown to increase risky behaviors such as risky driving, criminal behavior, and sexual promiscuity [108], whilst trait impulsivity has often been found to be increased in alcohol dependent individuals [109]. In addition to causing changes in cognitive functions, damage to frontal brain systems often leads to aberrations of emotion and personality. Alcohol’s effects on the brain and behavior depend upon an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). In addition, effects can differ depending on the time lapsed since ingestion; the same BAC may result in different effects on the ascending versus descending limbs of the BAC curve (Pohorecky and Brick 1977). Even when people are subjected to the same environmental conditions, their responses to a given dose of alcohol vary significantly on metabolic, physiological, subjective, cognitive, motor, and other measures (Reed 1985).

a clean brain vs a brain with drugs and alcohol

Overwhelmingly, the majority of studies thus far have examined effects related to low-level substance use initiation or heavy, frequent use. Although some studies report dose-dependent effects, greater clarification is needed to determine whether there is a threshold for harmful use that results in neural and cognitive consequences. Given the high rates of alcohol and cannabis use during adolescence, coupled with the significant neural maturation occurring during this period, it is critical to understand how alcohol and cannabis use affect alcohol vs drugs adolescent brain development. Specifically, existing reviews exclusively focus on alcohol,12,20 cannabis,21 or co-use,22 with some focusing solely on neuropsychological23 or neuroimaging studies24–27 within each substance use group. The aim of this review is to provide a comprehensive overview of the most recent literature that is both (1) focused on alcohol, cannabis, and alcohol and cannabis co-use use during adolescence and (2) meets the criteria for a prospective longitudinal neuropsychological and neuroimaging study in humans.