The effects of alcohol on brain and body

Alcohol is very much a cultural norm and widely accepted in society: it is present at a wide range of celebrations and social/recreational gatherings.

The aim of the following content is not to demonise alcohol, more to provide evidence-based content about the effects of alcohol on brain and body, to empower a person to make more informed choices for themselves.

Some facts about alcohol include:

  • * Alcohol has traditionally been used to eliminate bacteria and is classed as a poison that has a range of toxic effects upon the brain and body.
  • Alcohol is soluble in both fat and water, which means it has the capacity to directly infiltrate cells, as opposed to other chemicals which attach to cell receptors. Alcohol’s ability to pass straight into cells is one of the fundamental reasons why it can produce significant levels of stress and damage
  • Low (4-6 units per week pro/rata) and medium (8-10 units per week pro/rata) levels of alcohol consumption can result in degenerative effects upon both the brain and body.

Research shows that both a genetic pre-disposition, and the person’s age when consuming alcohol for the first time, are both major factors in determining the likelihood of a person developing alcohol dependency.

More generally speaking, a person with a pre-disposition to alcohol dependency tends to feel more energised and remains in a more positive state for longer, as opposed to people who experience the onset of tiredness & fatigue not long after that initial ‘high’ after first consuming alcohol.

The effects of alcohol on the brain 

  • Alcohol, due to being both water and fat soluble, can cross the blood-brain barrier and enter directly into cells;
  • Alcohol has a strong supressing effect on neural networks associated with memory formation and information storage;
  • Alcohol consumption results in increased levels of cortisol being released into the circulatory system which intensifies the individual’s subjective experience of both stress and anxiety – even when they are not consuming alcohol; 
  • Generally, an increased tolerance to alcohol is down to the result of the disruption of dopamine and serotonin systems, resulting in more impulsive behaviour and diminished mood.

The effects of alcohol on sleep 

A single unit of alcohol is enough to impact the seep process:

  • Our glymphatic (waste removal system) system is adversely affected, which overtime can lead to a range of neurological degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease;
  • We fail to achieve sufficient depths of sleep required, particularly deeper stages of Non-rapid eye movement Sleep (NREM) which equates to our emotions and experiences not being successfully regulated from the day, resulting in our Whole Person Wellbeing being adversely effected.

Thankfully, many of these adverse effects on neural circuitry are reversible, by abstaining from alcohol consumption for between two and six months.

The effects of alcohol on the body

  • Alcohol indiscriminately kills Bacteria; this includes the breakdown of the healthy gut microbiome which can lead to the medical condition of ‘leaky gut’;
  • Bacteria and chemicals from our digestive tract leak into the bloodstream, causing wide ranging health issues including increased inflammation, food intolerances and reductions in levels of immunity’;
  • When alcohol is metabolised by the liver, this is a pro-inflammatory process.

Thankfully, replenishing the Gut Microbiome with fermented foods can reduce inflammation and repair the system over time

Clearing the body of alcohol and reducing its effects 

  • Increasing the levels of epinephrine (adrenaline) in the bloodstream can support the clearance of alcohol. An example of this is cold water immersion (not to be attempted whilst inebriated);
  • Restoring electrolytes (ideally before consuming alcohol, or else before attempting to sleep) can combat alcohols diuretic effects;
  • There is no evidence to suggest that having a single drink, or a couple of drinks, once every few weeks or once a month leads to major health issues for most people. However, totally abstaining from alcohol consumption is a better option.