Alcohol corrupts the mind through many different forms and different ways between many people. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in the United States, nearly 16 million adults over the age of 18 have some type of alcohol abuse disorder, making it the most prevalent addiction issue in the country.
When it comes to alcohol, many fail to understand the destructiveness it weighs our country down with. In a business which grosses nearly 250 billion dollars annually, education about the nature of alcohol and its prevalent damage on the body and mind seem sparse in today’s media and culture.
Low to moderate alcohol use has been known to have nearly no harmful effects on the mind and body—in fact some studies show just the opposite. To understand the connection between alcohol abuse and the brain, we first have to start at alcohol itself—its true form.
Alcohol: Another Form Of Gasoline
Most of us understand alcohol to be an intoxicant and mind-altering substance, however, what many of us don’t know is that alcohol itself is simply watered down ethanol—a highly potent fuel.
Ethanol in its purest form is a grain alcohol, that once blended with petrochemicals makes the gasoline we use everyday. It is the primary component of the gasoline we pump into our cars, use in several different power plants, and even make jet fuel with.
The chemical part of ethanol that gives it its power—makes cars run and powers cities—is also the same part responsible for creating the mind-altering effects it has on those who drink it.
So the very same chemical that is used to power cities and run high throttle engines is also the same chemical many of us drink after a long day’s work or on a weekend night out.
Once ethanol is distilled—depending on the percentage it is distilled at—it creates the alcoholic beverages we are most familiar with: beer, wine, and liquors (or distilled spirits).
Once these chemical are ingested and flood the blood-brain barrier, it’s easy to see how the effects on our bodies might be more destructive than many of us have an understanding for.
Alcohol And The Brain
Typically whenever we consume alcohol, the effects from it are quickly noticed. From slurred speech, blurred vision, difficulty walking, slowed reaction times, failing memory, and more, these symptoms are quickly felt after the first couple drinks are consumed. However, given time, these symptoms quickly dissolve and disappear once one stops drinking.
The problem, however, persists in those who jump from breaks and continue drinking—otherwise known as “bingers” or alcoholics.
After prolonged heavy alcohol use over the span of several months and years, the damages that are easily resolved by simply the stopping of drinking are now largely irrelevant. The damage caused in the brain after drinking alcohol for a long period of time can sometimes be irreversible, even after reaching sobriety.
The human brain right now is the most complicated machine in the universe that we know of. Although there are many mysterious behind this complex organic computer, we have a fairly well understanding behind what causes it damage.
These damages caused in the brain can vary anywhere from short-term memory loss to more severe cases, such as having certain parts of the brain permanently injured, which would then would require medical and custodial care for the rest of a person’s life.
For heavy alcohol users who experience “blackouts,” (an alcohol induced coma caused by drinking too much), their chances of developing some type of long-term brain disorder or damage rise significantly, especially for those under the age of 23.
Most heavy and chronic alcohol consumers—nearly 80 percent of alcoholics according to the Department of Health and Human Services—usually have a severe lack of thiamin, which has nearly always lead to brain damage.
Thiamine is a critical nutrient that our body is unable to produce on its own and requires it through our diet. Studies have shown that the brain, liver, and kidney often carry heavy traces of thiamine, which might also be the reason why these organ systems are so severely affected in alcoholics. This nutrient is also vital in the production of certain chemicals in the brain conducive to communication in the brain. Once thiamine levels are critically low in the body, which is commonly caused by severe and prolonged alcohol abuse, it creates a neurological disorder in the brain known as Wernicke-Korsakoff (WKS) syndrome.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a brain disorder directly caused by a thiamine deficiency—most commonly caused by chronic alcohol abuse.
The disorder is a combination of two different neurological disorders: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis.
Symptoms of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy
- Eye movement abnormalities
- Chronic confusion
- Hearing loss
- Impaired vision
Symptoms of Korsakoff’s Psychosis
- Retrograde amnesia (severe memory loss)
- Quickly losing interest in things and activities (also known as severe impatience)
- Difficulty holding conversations
After suffering through Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome for a long enough period of time, those afflicted with it then commonly progress to a level of dementia, also known as “alcoholic dementia.”
Studies have shown that nearly 80 to 90 percent of all those who suffer from the syndrome eventually end up suffering through the psychosis attributed to it, which is often a short and one-way road to premature death. Currently in the United States, nearly 12 percent of those reported to have a significant alcohol abuse disorder, end up being diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
In a study conducted by the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee on the subject of thiamine and alcohol abuse, Peter R. Martin, M.D., says the following:
“Thiamine deficiency, which is found in a large number of alcoholics, is an important contributor to alcohol–related brain damage of all kinds, not only WKS, as was commonly thought in the past. Thiamine is an essential cofactor for several enzymes involved in brain cell metabolism that are required for the production of precursors for several important cell components as well as for the generation of the energy–supplying molecule ATP. Thiamine deficiency leads to significant reductions in the activities of these enzymes, and to deleterious effects on the viability of brain cells.”
Also, he follows up another common factor often attributed to those alcohol abusers with a genetic disposition to alcohol abuse.
“The extent to which alcohol exerts its detrimental effects on the brain and various other tissues may be genetically determined via individual differences in predisposition to thiamine deficiency disorders. For example, some studies have suggested that there may be different variants of the genes encoding transketolase, which differ in their ability to bind the active form of thiamine, particularly at low thiamine concentrations. Such a genetic variation could be one explanation for why only a subset of alcoholics who experience thiamine deficiency develop the pathological consequences of that condition, such as WKS.”
This direct connection between alcohol and brain disorders caused by it are rarely brought up in a county with higher alcohol addiction rates than any other nation on earth. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), they project that the number of reported alcohol addiction rates around the country is to rise in the next 10 years, nearly quadrupling the rates of today.
If you or someone you love might be suffering from alcohol abuse and addiction, confronting the problem earlier is always preferable to the alternative—waiting too long to the point of irreversible brain damage. If alcohol abuse disorder is dealt with early enough, there is medical technology and information available to fix the situation, with minimal to no lasting damages left behind.
At Recovery Hub, our addiction specialists are available 24/7 day and night to assist you in finding the right next step for treating addictions of any kind, click or call us today at 1-888-220-4352.