What are the late effects of alcohol on the brain?
Partying and enjoying with friends would be different if there was no alcohol involved. Alcoholic beverages have become an indivisible part of society since ancient years. They create a pleasant mood to hang out with friends and relatives, reduce inhibitions, and even reduces the levels of perceived pain. All of this happens because alcohol has its effects on the brain, and alcohol users should be aware there are concerning long-term effects as w
General effects on the brain
Alcohol abuse often leads to various consequences apart from economic and familiar issues. Studies show that a very high number of people who abuse alcohol over an extended period of time develop a type of cognitive impairment that often resolves with abstinence. Regardless of the duration of their alcoholic behaviors and the severity, up to 70% experience neuropsychological problems.
These patients also have a high risk to develop neuropathies, which are specific problems in the nerve tissue. They can experience numbness, tingling, unexplained pain and weakness as a part of a symmetric polyneuropathy, and they have a very high risk of developing nerve compressions with similar symptoms to those already described
Specific diseases and syndromes
Alcohol abuse impairs brain function through different mechanisms, and one of them is thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is a type of B vitamin that is not produced by the body, but it’s essential to keep active many enzymes in our cells. Not having enough of this vitamin causes cardiovascular problems and various consequences in the nervous system. Alcohol interferes with the absorption of thiamine in the gut and thus affects the way neurons work.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a severe neurological problem arising after alcohol-induced thiamine deficiency. It causes confusion, disturbances in the movement of the eyes, and poor coordination of the lower extremities. Korsakoff’s psychosis is another syndrome derived from thiamine deficiency, and it’s responsible for changes in the behavior and severe memory deficiency.
There’s a deep interconnection between nerves and muscle, which is why alcohol in the nervous system also affect the muscle tissue. Alcoholic myopathy is a muscle problem that causes pain and weakness after an alcoholic binge, or slow and sustained necrosis of the tissue in chronic cases.
Over the years, a continued abuse of alcohol can start affecting the cerebellum as well. This area of the brain is deeply involved in keeping balance and coordination, so alcoholic cerebellar degeneration often causes gait problems that would be expected to worsen over time unless the patient decides to abstain from alcohol.
Finally, there are less common syndromes such as Marchiafava-Bignami disease. When patients are alcoholic and malnourished, they can develop this problem. It causes necrosis or demyelination of an area of interconnections in the brain called corpus callosum. As a result, patients experience severe memory problems, difficulty to walk, stiffness of the muscles, and speech problems.
All of these addiction problems can be prevented, and most can be resolved or controlled with alcohol abstinence. Alcoholism can deeply affect the way we relate, our finances, and even our personality, mental and neurological health. Therefore, responsibility over alcohol consumption is paramount, because every decision we make ultimately contributes to our health or disease.