When it comes to the physical health effects of alcoholism, traditionally, it’s the liver that gets much of the attention. Additionally, there’s been a surge of interest in identifying the biological factors, or the genetic markers, that distinguish those individuals who are particularly susceptible to the development of alcoholism from those who aren’t. However, a batch of new studies has taken a closer look at the human brain on alcohol, especially with regard to memory and forgetfulness.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
Like other drugs of abuse, alcohol has specific effects on the brain that give it high addictive potential. When an individual consumes alcohol, the reward center of the brain experiences an influx of hormones and feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This serves to reinforce the behavior since the person quickly learns to associate these rewarding, pleasurable feelings with the consumption of alcohol.
As he or she consumes a larger quantity of alcohol in a sitting, the pleasurable effect becomes stronger or more pronounced. Alcohol’s ability to activate the reward center of the brain is at the center of intoxication, which is also known to cause a depressant effect on the phone while decreasing coordination and motor control. However, as complex organisms with the ability to consider future outcomes and the consequences of our behaviors, most individuals control their drinking behavior; in essence, the undesirable outcomes serve to counter the temptation to overindulge in alcohol.
Scientific Correlation Between Alcoholism & Memory
Recently, a study conducted by researchers out of the University of Utah sought to determine some of the neurological differences between individuals who don’t drink to excess and individuals who could be considered alcoholics. To do so, the group experimented with two groups of rats. Both were given unimpeded access to alcohol, but one group of rats had a particular area of the brain rendered “inactive.”
The rats with this particular region of the brain—called the lateral habenula—inactivated escalated their alcohol consumption much more rapidly than the rats whose lateral habenula were still active. As such, the researchers came to the conclusion that the lateral habenula served to prevent rats from overindulging in alcohol, and the answer as to why that occurred has some pretty significant implications with regard to the behavior of individuals with alcoholism.
According to the researchers, the lateral habenula is activated by bad experiences. When an individual has a negative experience as a direct result of a certain behavior, the experience of consequences activates this region of the human brain; when they are confronted with the opportunity to engage in that behavior again, the lateral habenula essentially reminds them of the prior experience of consequences regarding that behavior and makes them unlikely to engage in that behavior again.
This is why the rats with inactive lateral habenula would continue to escalate their alcohol consumption despite the negative outcomes they had experienced previously. In short, the researchers believe their experiment illustrates the competition that occurs in those who suffer from alcoholism between the rewarding effects and the negative consequences of overindulging in alcohol.
The lateral habenula could function in one of two ways: Either it regulates how badly an individual feels after drinking or it controls how an individual learns from negative consequences due to their behavior with much evidence pointing toward the latter.
Brain Damage Due to Alcoholism
In addition to the more specific role that the lateral habenula plays in regulating drinking behavior, countless studies have determined that ongoing alcoholism will cause continuous, cumulative memory loss. This should come as no surprise since individuals can have memory loss after only a couple drinks in a single sitting, often referred to as a “blackout.” However, blackouts have actually been found to be much more common among individuals who are not alcoholics and, rather, are social drinkers; in contrast, alcoholics tend to experience fewer blackouts while also experiencing an overall decrease in memory ability. There’s even a condition called alcohol dementia, which refers to the memory loss that occurs as a result of neurological damage brought on by excessive, long-term overconsumption of alcohol.
Leave the Chains of Addiction Behind
The brain on alcohol is serious for the drinker’s health. Alcoholism can be so severe that an individual who attempts recovery could experience potentially life-threatening withdrawal. This is why it’s essential to detox and overcome alcoholism in a high-quality addiction treatment program. If you or someone you love is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction and want to learn more about recovery, call us at 1-855-619-8070 today for a free consultation and assessment with one of our recovery specialists. Free yourself from the chains of addiction and begin the journey to a new life of health and happiness.