Beer, vodka, whiskey, and rum – these alcoholic beverages are consumed regularly all around the world. However, the manner in which alcohol affects the brain is not as well known as Johnny Walker and Heineken. The effects of booze on the liver is well known and documented, but it is important to consider how your next drink will change your brain. Read on to find out.
GABA and the Brain
GABA, also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a chemical produced in the brain that changes the nervous system and ultimately the way we feel. GABA production and absorption is ramped up when people drink alcoholic beverages, and this affects how the brain reacts. Increased GABA makes people feel more relaxed, slower to react to things, and generally happier. This is why GABA is formulated into various supplements. The thinking is that a happier brain (or one that is tricked into feeling happy) is a healthier brain. One thing is for sure – GABA affects the brain, but does not seem to harm it.
Binge Drinking and Long-Term Drinking
Drinking in moderation is not usually associated with serious health problems, but what happens when this drinking goes on for years? It turns out that modern scientific studies into this area have found no linkage between light, regular drinking and bad brains. While regular drinking will likely not do any damage to the brain, severe consumption of alcohol, or binge drinking, causes harm to the ends of the neurons of the brain. It does not damage or kill the brain cells like a concussion would, but it alters how the brain can communicate with itself. Think of it like this. Your friend changes his phone number and forgot to tell you what his new number is. You can call a mutual friend and find out, but until you learn this new number, you cannot communicate with your friend. The same is true with binge drinking – the brain gets confused and changes the “number” it calls the neighboring nerve cell on.
In addition to the changed pathways for communication, long-term binge drinking hampers the absorption of thiamine, one of the most important B vitamins for the brain. This causes malnutrition and eventual degradation of the brain, making severe alcoholism dangerous for many parts of the body. Keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum eliminates the risk for damaging your brain.