During Alcohol Awareness Month in April, L.A. CADA is taking a look at the effects of alcohol in our lives.
If we drink, we like alcohol for many reasons. The taste (sometimes), the warm buzz, the relaxing effects, and sharing these things with friends. But how does alcohol really work?
Well, about thirty seconds after our first sip, alcohol races into the brain where it has a calming effect. Alcohol slows down the chemicals and pathways our brain cells use to send messages. That alters our mood and may make us drowsy. But we won’t sleep well. The body processes alcohol throughout the night and once the effects wear off, it leaves us tossing and turning. You just don’t get that good REM sleep your body needs to feel restored.
Alcohol also slows our reflexes and throws us off balance. After several drinks, our ability to think straight is diminished and we are less able to store things in our long-term memory. For example, while we think we’re ok to drive, but we may overestimate our ability to do it, forgetting the negative consequences of drunk driving.
If we drink heavily over time, booze can affect how our brain looks and works. Brain cells start to change and even get smaller. Too much alcohol can actually shrink your brain. That has a big effect on our ability to think, learn, and remember things. It can also make it harder to keep a steady body temperature and control movements. We also tend to neglect other responsibilities in favor of time spent drinking (and often the co-occurring use of drugs).
Our liver is responsible for breaking down almost all the alcohol we drink. In the process, it handles a lot of toxins. Over time, heavy drinking makes the organ fatty and lets thicker, fibrous tissue build up. That limits blood flow, so liver cells can’t get what they need to survive. As they die off, the liver gets scars and stops working as well; a disease called cirrhosis.