Alcohol’s effect on the brain.

Posted on January 14th, 2010

Anyone serious about craft beer should know that great beer should be enjoyed responsibly. Many of the most interesting and unusual beers out there frequently carry with them high alcohol percentages, some as high as 13 or 14%. Beer this strong can have a powerful effect on anyone. Today, we’re going to take a look at how alcohol affects the brain.

There are basically four stages of intoxication-

1st Stage – The first part of the brain alcohol hits is your cerebral cortex, making you more talkative and less inhibited. Because the cerebral cortex controls conscious thought, language and social interaction, these aspects of our personality begin to run less efficiently under the influence of alcohol.

2nd Stage – After the cerebral cortex, alcohol begins to affect the hippocampus, resulting in memory loss and exaggerated emotions. This is the part of the evening when you begin having trouble with balance and start telling everyone “I love you, man!” Due to the importance of the hippocampus in long-term memory retention, this is also when memory starts to get a little fuzzy.

3rd Stage – Next up on alcohol’s hit list is the  cerebellum, which seriously impairs your coordination and balance. This is not a pretty sight. The typical person usually has so much trouble keeping their balance at this point that they can no longer stand up. Nausea and vomiting frequently occur during this stage. Scientists believe that these symptoms stem from increased levels of acetaldehyde present in the body, a by product of metabolizing alcohol.

4th Stage – Finally alcohol makes it way to your medulla, frequently resulting in disruptions of automatic functions, like heart rate & breathing. This is serious and immediate medical attention should be sought. Usually a person is passed out at this point, and alcohol poisoning is a high risk.

As soon as you consume alcohol, your body begins breaking it down. Your liver metabolizes around 90% of the alcohol you consume. The remaining 10% is actually excreted through urine and breath, albeit at a much slower rate. The average liver can metabolize about 1 drink per hour. If you consume more than that, the liver can’t break the alcohol down fast enough, and you begin to get drunk.

Having some food with your beer can slow down the consumption rate, causing you to get less drunk, but it’s no excuse to drink excessively. Great beer should be enjoyed for its taste and merit, not as a way to get drunk. If you have concerns about your alcohol consumption or that of someone you know, the best idea is to consult a medical professional.