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How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain and Central Nervous System?

What effect does alcohol have on the brain? Learn more about how alcohol and brain recovery coincide as well as treatment options.

Is Alcohol a CNS Depressant?

Alcohol is a psychotropic depressant of the central nervous system (CNS) that stimulates concurrent changes in several neuronal pathways, having a significant neurological influence that results in various psychological and biological modifications.[1]

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), carried out by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), defines drinking to excess as having four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men on the same occasion. At least once in the previous month, that is, concurrently or within a few hours of one another.[2]

Alcohol Consumption Statistics

See below the alcohol consumption statistics:[3]

  • More than 200 diseases and injuries are caused by the inappropriate use of alcohol.
  • An annual 3 million deaths are brought on by the harmful use of alcohol worldwide. This accounts for 5.3% of all fatalities.
  • Regarding disability-adjusted life years, alcohol is responsible for 5.1% of the world's disease and injury burden (DALYs).
  • Beyond negative effects on health, alcohol abuse has a negative social and economic impact on both the person and society.
  • Early in life, alcohol usage results in mortality and impairment. Approximately 13.5 percent of all deaths among adults between the ages of 20 and 39 are related to alcohol.
  • Harmful alcohol use is associated with various mental and behavioral disorders, other non-communicable diseases, and accidents.

Can Alcohol Permanently Damage Your Brain?

Numerous studies have revealed a connection between heavy drinking and impaired brain function, leading to illnesses including dementia, learning and memory deficiencies, behavioral disorders, and other cognitive damage. Chronic alcohol usage has the potential to permanently harm the brain. The damage to the brain can be repaired with medical intervention.[4]

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse and Poisoning

It is important to explore some of the most typical behavioral, psychological, and physical indicators of alcohol abuse. Indications of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Unsteady speech
  • Unstable thinking
  • Loss of memory
  • Attempting to cut back on drinking yet failing to succeed
  • Putting drinking before work, family, and social obligations
  • Keeping the level of alcohol abuse a secret to protect it
  • Taking risks, such as driving while intoxicated
  • Denying the severity of the issue of alcohol abuse
  • Becoming upset with the thought of being unable to acquire booze

Common Signs of Alcohol Poisoning 

With alcohol abuse, there comes alcohol poisoning. Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Light skin or skin with a blue tint
  • Decreased body temperature, or hypothermia
  • Being unconscious and unable to be roused
  • Breathing slowly (less than eight breaths a minute)
  • Impaired breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain and Central Nervous System?

Alcohol intoxication is the outcome of short-term effects on the central nervous system, with symptoms that depend on how much alcohol is consumed, how frequently it is consumed, the individual's particular physical characteristics, and weight. After just one or two drinks, alcohol intoxication symptoms, such as slight cognitive and physical impairment, may start to show, but higher consumption can lead to alcohol overdose if too much alcohol is consumed in one sitting.[5]

Alcohol immediately impacts the brain because it alters the pathways that carry signals between cells and process information. Unfortunately, excessive, or quick drinking can have several negative mental impacts, including disorientation, poor motor coordination, and poor decision-making.5

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain And Central Nervous System

People who consume more alcohol have a higher risk of developing harmful alcohol-related issues, especially if they do so over an extended period.5 Chronic alcohol consumption poses long-term health hazards, including issues with the heart, liver, and digestion, cancer, immune system deterioration, mood and sleep difficulties, and the emergence of other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.[5]

An alcohol use disorder (AUD), sometimes known as having an "alcohol addiction" or "alcoholism," can develop because of prolonged alcohol misuse. An AUD is a compulsive, harmful drinking habit that continues despite adversely affecting a person's health, employment, and interpersonal connections.[5]

What Are the Stages of Alcohol Intoxication?

The percentage of alcohol in the blood is measured by the term "blood alcohol content" (BAC). A BAC of 0.08 indicates that your blood contains 0.08 percent alcohol by volume and is measured in grams per 100 mL of blood. BAC is calculated as grams per 210 liters of breath using a breathalyzer.6

Subliminal Intoxication

A BAC of 0.05 or less makes it less likely for the person to appear drunk. Depending on the individual, decision-making and reaction time may be slightly hampered. For both men and women, one drink often results in a BAC below this limit.


Euphoria, the second stage of intoxication, happens between 0.03-0.12 BAC (or around 1-4 drinks for a female or 2-5 for a male). The person might feel more self-assured, conversational, outgoing, and subtly euphoric at this point. Additionally, inhibitions start to fade. The negative consequences of alcohol, such as decreased judgment, memory, and coordination, will also start to show up at this time, even though many of its effects may be pleasant for the drinker.

A person's motor skill reactions may also be significantly more delayed at this point than they would be sober. In the same way, awareness is reduced, the person may start having trouble processing information, and they won't spot danger as quickly.


A person enters the third stage of intoxication, commonly known as enthusiasm, when their BAC is between 0.09 and 0.25. They can start displaying emotional instability, poor judgment, and a pronounced lag in their reaction times.


A person with a BAC between 0.18 and 0.30 is in the confused stage of intoxication, characterized by emotional instability and confusion. The person's coordination is clearly compromised to the point where they may stumble when walking, struggle to stand up straight, and possibly even feel dizzy. Those who are in this level of intoxication are probably going to "blackout" or lose all recollection.


At this point, a person has very limited mobility, is likely to vomit, and may experience consciousness lapses. Here, there is a significant potential for an alcohol overdose, so quick medical attention is required. The BAC is between 0.25 and 0.49 percent.


This dose is almost lethal. The intoxicated person is straining to breathe and has fallen unconscious. Their body temperature is dangerously low, and their heart rate has also slowed. A person at this stage has a BAC between 0.35 and 0.50 percent.


When a person consumes this much alcohol, the body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) shuts down at 0.45 BAC or above. The ANS controls physiological processes like breathing, heartbeat, circulation, digestion, etc. Many people cannot maintain basic bodily functions at this point, and it's almost guaranteed that they will experience respiratory arrest and eventually die.

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

A detoxification program, or medically assisted withdrawal, may be used as the first step in treatment. This typically takes 2 to 7 days and is also referred to as detox. The patient might need to take sedative drugs to stop the withdrawal symptoms. Inpatient treatment facilities or hospitals are frequently used for detoxification.

Alcohol And Brain

Alcohol And Brain

Behavioral Treatments 

Following the detox phase, rehabilitation will start. This entails a variety of therapies and treatments to assist you in overcoming drinking desires and triggers. You will also pick some coping mechanisms during this phase that you can use once you leave rehab. Depending on the extent of your alcoholism and your doctor’s recommendations, the rehabilitation stage may occur in an inpatient or outpatient setting.


Alcohol use disorder cannot be "cured" by medication, but some can aid in the healing process. They can reduce the appeal of drinking to make people want to do it less:

  • If the patient drinks while taking disulfiram (Antabuse), they may feel unwell or throw up.
  • Cravings may be reduced with the aid of acamprosate (Campral).
  • Revia (naltrexone) prevents the euphoria that comes from drinking.
  • Drugs used to treat epilepsy, smoking, or other illnesses may also help treat alcohol consumption disorder.

Mutual-Support Groups

It can require perseverance and hard work to give up and refrain from drinking. A person's ability to recover might be impacted by their daily routines and coping mechanisms.

  • The patient should surround oneself with family, friends, and those who support their aims as one of the actions that can be taken
  • They ought to make it known that they are no longer drinking and take good care of themselves.
  • Eat a balanced diet, get enough rest, remain active, and control stress.
  • Take part in pursuits and pastimes devoid of alcohol.

Recovery from alcohol abuse or poisoning could take a while and require constant monitoring, therefore, it is best to seek help early. To get the best treatment visit us at Genesis Recovery today!  


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