Depending on how much you drink, alcohol can seem like an easy way to unwind with friends or a terrible substance that leads you to make rash decisions. When you learn about these 4 effects that alcohol has on your brain, the reasons behind your experiences will become more obvious.
Alcohol Suppresses Glutamate
Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that increases brain activity and energy. When you have the proper level of glutamate in your brain, you can think clearly and quickly.
Alcohol suppresses the production of glutamate, leaving your brain in a lurch. Without the right amount of this excitatory neurotransmitter, your brain cannot process information as quickly as it normally does.
That means slow, sluggish thinking that could lead to poor decision-making, like texting your ex in the middle of the night. This is also the reason its not good to drink and drive. Your reaction time is slower and you are more likely to cause an accident. Anyone who has had a few drinks too many certainly knows what that feels like.
Alcohol Increases GABA
GABA, which stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, does the opposite of glutamate. GABA tries to keep the brain calm. This balancing act is essential for daily life since your glutamate helps you concentrate at work and GABA helps you relax at the end of the day.
When you drink alcohol, your brain starts to create excess amounts of GABA. That’s why so many people pass out after they’ve had too much to drink.
Increasing GABA further handicaps your brain, which is already suffering from suppressed glutamate. By slowing the brain’s functions, imbibers can become confused, disoriented, and out of control.
Alcohol Increases Dopamine
If alcohol only slowed the brain down by messing with GABA and glutamate neurotransmitters, far fewer people would abuse it. Instead of feeling happy and enthusiastic, you would probably just feel tired and confused.
Since alcohol also increases dopamine, your brain feels rewarded when you consume a drink. Ideally, dopamine would only reward you when you’ve done something good like exercise or form a new friendship. The neurotransmitter plays a crucial role in those healthy activities, too, but alcohol confuses the system by creating a reward for unhealthy behaviors.
The increased dopamine is the part that makes people want to drink alcohol. This is also how drugs like cocaine and crystal meth make people feel good. Dopamine is the reason people become addicted to alcohol. It gives them that feel-good sensation and helps them forget about their problems.
Unfortunately, the more that you drink, the more dopamine your brain releases. As you stumble around the room, speaking incomprehensibly, the high levels of dopamine tell your brain that everything is great.
Alcohol Gives the Brain Diminished Returns
Drinking alcohol on occasion might not cause any real harm to the brain, especially if you drink in moderation. Frequent drinkers, however, run into problems as they continue to expect the same positive feelings from alcohol.
If you’ve been drinking heavily for a few years, your brain’s dopamine production slows. It takes more and more alcohol to create that “feel good” sensation. Once that happens, many people become alcoholics who can’t regain control of their lives without centers for alcohol detox. That’s a frightening way to live.
If you or someone you know cannot stop drinking, that person has probably progressed to the point where his or her brain doesn’t produce adequate dopamine. Consider seeking counseling or rehab to help yourself or that someone you know who has reached this point.
The next time you are out enjoying a few drinks with friends, keep in mind this information. It can help you make better decisions while drinking.