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Alcohol Addiction and Brain Adaptation – The Long Term Impact on the Brain
Addiction takes a toll on people. About 130 million Americans have experienced it in their marriage. Untreated addiction costs the US $400 billion a year. That’s six times the cost of treating heart disease and diabetes — and four times the cost of cancer. No wonder 40 percent of all road deaths are alcohol related. But did you know that more than half of all homicides and domestic violence cases are alcohol-related?
Of all the ways alcohol affects the world, the most profound is the effect alcohol has on the human brain. Repeated alcohol consumption causes long-term and negative changes in the brain’s small neurons, or neurons. To understand how alcohol affects our brain, let’s start at the beginning: the day you were born. By this time, your brain had grown to about 100 billion neurons. Neurons are living, growing cells in a vast and dynamic electrical network in the brain. Neurons are not organized like electrical wires. Almost every neuron constantly changes its activity in response to physical, sensory, and environmental stimuli.
Each neuron in the brain takes in new information and communicates with other neurons to make sense of it. The transmission of information, from one neuron to another, occurs at lightning speed. A neuron can send a signal, reset itself, and send another signal up to 400 times per second. In fact, everything that a child sees, hears, smells, touches, and everything else that he feels helps his brain to create new communication networks. By adulthood, the total number of connections between neurons is 100 trillion.
Connections between neurons are dynamic and change over time. New connections are made and old ones are broken. The “wiring” of the brain, therefore, is created and shaped by life experiences. Information coming through the eyes, ears, and other senses is captured, and your neural connections can gradually change, creating new ones. This connection continues to grow and evolve into adulthood.
However, alcohol consumption, and its physical effects such as intoxication and sleep, disrupt communication between neurons in the brain. Since alcohol is a depressant, it reduces the functioning of many parts of the brain. Neurons in the affected area control the muscles, causing them to relax and contract. Neurons in the affected areas also control speech, resulting in slurred and slurred speech. Similarly, the affected neurons control the body’s functions, and heart rate and breathing are disrupted.
But, what happens physically inside the brain when we drink alcohol? Why do we feel better when we drink alcohol quickly? Well, the pleasure we feel with alcohol, as well as food and sex, comes from the brain’s natural release of dopamine. We rely on our brain’s ability to release dopamine to enjoy human needs such as the sight, smell, or taste of food. That experience, however brief, is stored in the hippocampus region of the brain. The same physical sensation occurs when we have sexual desire and even when we see or smell our partner. Alcohol, in particular, produces larger and faster dopamine releases, and the brain responds by reducing its normal dopamine production.
When you start drinking, the brain gets drunk quickly. It releases high levels of dopamine, a natural feel-good chemical, to combat alcohol toxicity. So, it’s dopamine that makes you feel good, not alcohol. Repeated drinking increases the amount of dopamine released over time. Eventually the brain compensates by reducing its natural production to combat the effects of alcohol. This is why, over time, it takes many drinks to create the same addiction. The brain becomes dysfunctional when it adjusts to the high levels of dopamine produced by alcohol.
As soon as you stop drinking, a lack of dopamine is created and cravings begin. Then, the brain creates negative thoughts to encourage you to drink – to raise your dopamine levels again. The fastest way to bring him back to “normal” is to drink alcohol. When this brain damage occurs, all activities are affected: from thoughts and behaviors to decisions and relationships. This explains why those who drink alcohol are twice as likely to be divorced than those who do not.
Repeated alcohol consumption causes long-term changes in the brain. Scientists call this change “neuroadaptation.” This means that the neurons become accustomed to drinking alcohol, as if it were normal. Let’s say, for example, that you start drinking regularly at 6pm every evening. At first the brain starts to defend itself against the drug, because it considers alcohol to be a poison. It warns you of its effects by causing intoxication, nausea, dizziness, and other symptoms. However, as you continue to drink regularly, the brain compensates, allowing you to drink more by building a stronger tolerance. At this point the neurons change the way you drink.
Now, let’s say you suddenly decide you’re not going to drink tonight at 6pm. The altered brain, which now believes that alcohol is a normal part of life, sends out various signals to remind you that it is time as the clock approaches 6pm. These symptoms come in the form of mild symptoms, such as irritability, irritability, cravings, and cravings. In short, you have trained your brain to crave alcohol. (Later, you’ll learn how retraining the brain is a clear path to recovery.)
During this time a person becomes dependent on alcohol, which results from changes in the brain. The most advanced technologies – such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), positron emission tomography (PET), and electrophysiological brain mapping – show that addiction is not really a problem, but a brain disorder. due to repeated poisoning of the brain.
For years, scientists have believed that the number of neurons in the adult brain stabilizes throughout life. If the brain was damaged, new neurons would not be made. Later researchers discovered that new information is created as they grow older – a process called “neurogenesis.” New learning occurs, allowing electrical signals to travel through neural pathways more easily. This ability to change is called “plasticity.”
This ability to grow new neurons and create new connections was demonstrated in experiments like those conducted by Doctors Avi Karni and Leslie Ungerleider at the National Institutes of Mental Health. They had simple exercise training – and identified the parts of the brain that were affected by brain MRI. The students used the car every day, gradually becoming faster and more efficient. After four weeks, new brain scans showed that the part of the brain involved in this process had grown. This suggests that regular practice and repetition of the task acquired these cells — and changed the original neural connections.
This finding is the basis of a new scientific concept: internal change begins with “learning” (new neural input), which gradually replaces our “negative conditioning” (present neural circuitry). The result is ”positive conditioning” (or new neural circuitry) that leads to new emotions and behaviors. Therefore, the idea of “re-wiring” the brain to make permanent changes is a real and well-known possibility.
Alcohol addiction involves the same processes as memory and early learning. So the addiction weakens everything the brain used to know. Effective recovery involves reversing the process. This is a dynamic, integrated approach that involves what scientists call “retraining” the brain — or neuroplasticity. More information on neuroplasticity and its success can be found on the NIFAR website.
Alcohol addiction is progressive. Over time, it usually gets worse, not better. Behaviors related to alcohol consumption cross all racial lines, affecting all genders, all races, and all taxa. Therefore, new ways of dealing with this problem should be used to help the people who are suffering. In doing so, we will reduce the enormous unmet health care financial burden, which now exceeds $400 billion annually in America.
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