HOW DOES ALCOHOL AFFECT THE BRAIN
Amanda B. Diaz Martin
Chair: Faculty Chair’s Name
Committee Member: Faculty Member’s Name
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A PROFESSIONAL PROJECT PRESENTED TO
THE SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION+JOURNALISM
OF FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE
OF MASTER OF SCIENCE
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY
The human brain is a significant command center of the human nervous system, responsible for emotions, thoughts, movement, and other complex functions resulting from biological evolution. According to Wang et al. (2020), brain health has no universal definition, however, brain health, in its simplicity, is the ability of the brain to perform all its cognitive processes, which includes the ability to remember, learn, use language, and judge. Therefore, one of life’s uppermost objectives for every individual is maintaining a healthy brain for longevity. Many people believe that a glass of wine or alcohol occasionally or during meals does not affect their bodies, the truth is any amount of alcohol can have unwanted health challenges for the consumers. Binge drinking has more noticeable effects, which occur soon. One of the significant effects of alcohol is on the brain, from the moment a person takes the first sip, the alcohol starts taking effect on the brain, it interferes with the brain’s communication pathways impacting how the brain works and looks. Therefore, this article will explore the impacts of alcohol on human brain by exploring major neurological disorders on the brain’s health and the impacts these disorders have on individuals. Thus, this review will focus on articles exploring the dangers of alcohol on the brain, statistics, and impacts on healthcare and society.
The brain is an important organ in our body and has three paramount functions that affect our daily lives. First, it is responsible for maintaining normal behavior and social cognition. Secondly, it is significant for interpreting our senses and controlling movements, and lastly, it maintains mental, emotional, and cognitive processes. In research by Charlton and Perry (2022), alcohol consumption is associated with accelerated decline in all the three functions identified above, these induced cognitive deficits are acute in those consuming alcohol and significantly inhibit decision-making, memory, learning, and flexibility. Alcohol affects everyone’s cognitive health, the effects develop over time, and they are more noticeable in those who drink regularly. There are short-term and long-term impacts of alcohol consumption on the brain, they range from mild changes in mood, head pain, impulsive behavior, and loss of coordination to more advanced and long-term effects such as memory loss and concentration problems, increased tension and conflicts with partners, and anxiety. These effects are more evident and develop fast in adolescents consuming alcohol.
Adolescents’ brains have not reached maturity, are still developing, and are more vulnerable to alcohol consumption (de Goede et al. 2021). In longitudinal studies by PsychINFO and PubMed, scientists sought to explore questions on whether consuming alcohol has negative impacts on the brain development of young people (de Goede et al. 2021). The research was conducted on young adults and adolescents between 12 and 24 years old, the objective was to measure brain activities such as brain structure, cognitive functioning, brain activity, and educational performance among these young populations. According to Squeglia (2020), globally, most people are initiated to alcohol as adolescents, the report showed that 27% of adolescents between 15 and 19 years old consumed alcohol in August 2020 alone. The study further shows that alcohol has significant brain effects on adolescents, those who start consuming it before 15 years are four times more likely to have alcohol-related disorders than their counterparts who start at 21 (Squeglia, 2020). Therefore, the results from de Goede et al. (2021) study show that adolescents have a high impact on brain damage for those who start drinking early in life, the results indicate a negative impact on their brain development and risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD) later in life. Thus, these effects from adolescence are carried to adulthood, those who start drinking later in life are also not immune to these brain damages.
According to Daviet et al. (2022), consuming alcohol is associated with neuronal loss, brain atrophy, and poor white matter fiber integrity, according to this research neuroimaging studies show heavy alcohol consumption (four or more drinks for men and three or more drinks for women) cause micro and macrostructural changes in the brain, affecting cerebellar, diencephalic, frontal and hippocampal. Alcohol consumption is associated with cognitive impairment, despite the extensive literature on alcohol consumption and the structure of the consumer’s brain, there are not enough studies to explore the association between individuals who consume alcohol and have AUD and those who consume and do not have these effects. According to Kiat et al. (2019), older adults and middle-aged moderate alcohol consumers are associated with parietal brain regions and lower density of the gray matter volume (GMV) in the frontal; this study shows that there is no significant difference between an individual who moderately consume alcohol (less than 7 units per week) and those who do not consume. Moreover, those who consume between moderate to high volumes of alcohol (more than 14 units a week) their hippocampi showed GMV atrophy and an altered microstructure (lower fractional anisotropy and higher mean diffusivity) in the individual corpus callosum (Kiat et al., 2019). Nonetheless, the study shows inconclusive results between moderate alcohol consumers and the brain structure of those who do not consume. The differences may result from small studies not being representative of the entire population. Thus, future studies may need to research a larger population sample.
Alcohol consumption severely affects the brain leading to Hepatic encephalopathy, this condition affects the individual’s personality, psychiatric conditions such as reduced attention span, cognitive effects, and coordination problems such as flapping or shaking of the victim’s hands (Topiwala et al., 2022). Topiwala et al. (2022) researched iron levels in the brain, the assumption was that iron overload in the brain significantly impacts brain health, causing neurodegeneration. The study showed that moderate levels of alcohol consumption result in high levels of iron in the person’s brain, this iron accumulation is a catalyst for cognitive decline. Therefore, people who have never consumed alcohol have lower iron levels than moderate and heavy drinkers. Thus, it is safe to say that no level of alcohol is good for our brain health, in some future studies, scientists are investigating iron chelation and its relationship with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases (Topiwala et al., 2022).
Alcohol has been socially acceptable in almost all times of human history. However, heavy consumption of alcohol is dangerous to our brains. So far, we have identified significant impacts of alcohol on adolescents and adults. However, we have not explored what happens to alcohol consumers at an older age, long-term and heavy alcohol consumption results in memory issues at an older age, and its exacerbation leads to mental health conditions. As an intricate human organ, the brain must carefully balance chemicals called neurotransmitters for a person to work effectively. Alcohol affects this balance by disrupting the natural equilibrium, which causes the brain to strain for compensation. According to Jeon et al. (2023), 57 million people globally live with dementia, and the estimates are expected to grow three times to around 152 million by 2050. This study shows that moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with a low risk of dementia, while heavy drinking is directly related to a high risk of dementia. Dementia is a global concern stretching health resources, with the projected levels by 2050, the global deterioration scale is expected to continue (Rodríguez-Hidalgo et al., 2023).
In conclusion, previous studies show strong evidence to suggest that alcohol has a significant impact, sometimes irreversible conditions, on the human brain. The research provided both theoretical and statical analysis through data and future projections. Moreover, it also shows that health systems are likely to be stretched in the future as the impacts of alcohol consumption continue to affect people of all ages. The most vulnerable groups are adolescents and young adults whose brains have not fully developed. Nonetheless, there are some inconclusive studies, such as the effect of moderate alcohol consumption on brain structure among consumers and non-consumers, which raises the opportunity for future studies with a large population sample. Thus, there is a need to promote optimal brain health and comprehensive evaluation of the impacts of alcohol on micro and macro structures.
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