What happens to our brains when we drink alcohol?
Dr Martin Stebbing, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience in the School of Health and Medical Science, explains what happens to our brains when we drink alcohol.
“What happens to the brain when we drink alcohol?” Transcript 1.51 minutes
DESCRIPTION: This video shows Dr Martin Stebbing, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience, School of Health and Biomedical Sciences speaking to camera. It is a mix of live action and animation and as he speaks, the video will cut to animations illustrating the various points he speaks about.
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VISUAL: Martin Stebbing speaks to camera.
MARTIN STEBBING SPEAKS: So alcohol's main affect on the brain happens at the cellular level. In fact it changes the way that nerve cells conduct and use electrical signals which makes thinking harder and reaction times slower. However there are parts of the brain that appear to be affected the most and first by alcohol. The cerebellum for instance, the big crinkly bit at the back of the brain helps us with balance and coordination. So that's why police will ask a suspected drunk driver to try and walk a straight line. It's also why people have suffered damage to this part of the brain can appear like they are also drunk. Now alcohol also effects the pleasure centres of the brain it releases a chemical messenger called Dopamine which makes up feel good and can also be addictive.
MARTIN STEBBING SPEAKS: So alcohol also effects the prefrontal cortex which is a part of the brain responsible for decision making, personality and social behaviour. And it can make us do things we wouldn't normally do like approach that cute person we've been wanting to talk to or take a risk we wouldn't normally take. Alcohol also affects the hypothalamus which controls our kidneys, that's why when we drink alcohol we need to pee a lot which of course causes dehydration and in turn gives us that nasty headache in the morning. So if you keep drinking especially on an empty stomach alcohol can affect other parts of the brain which can include the brain stem which eventually causes us to lose consciousness. Memory can also suffer if you drink too much. The brain becomes so impaired and in fact it becomes unable to convert short term memories into long term memories so when the alcohol wears off you've actually lost the memory. So alcohol can certainly make you feel good at the time but excessive use can be damaging to all facets of your health not just your brain.
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