Effect of alcohol addiction on cognitive function

Posted on November 29th, 2016 in Addiction, alcohol, Alcohol Abuse, alcohol addiction, alcohol rehab, alcoholism

Effect of alcohol addiction on cognitive function

Many people use alcohol as an escape route for various day-to-day problems related to personal, social or job pressures, which may lead to alcohol abuse. Studies have shown that chronic or excessive alcohol consumption can have a very negative consequence on the brain, impacting the cognitive function.

Cognitive function is an ability of an individual to attain, accumulate, recover and use information.  Persistent cognitive impairments can cause serious issues at school, job and social circle of adolescent heavy drinkers and chronic adult drinkers.

How does alcohol impair cognition?

Human brain has a complex structure and alcohol has a strong effect on it. The neurons or the brain cells are responsible for transmitting chemical signals (brain chemicals or neurotransmitters) and when alcohol crosses the blood brain barrier, it severely derails this function. This is evident from intoxication symptoms such as compromised memory, poor reflexes, slurred speech and impulsive behavior experienced by those who indulge in drinking.

Chronic alcoholism causes the brain to adapt to the signal blocking via a strong reaction toward neurotransmitters. This strong reaction may continue even during alcohol withdrawal, leading to severe withdrawal symptoms or significant damage to the brain cells. Binge drinking and sudden alcohol withdrawal make this process even worse, leading to neurotoxicity and neuron damage. Once the neural damage starts, immediate slowing down of the refluxes becomes apparent. In addition, white and gray matter of the brain starts getting affected and the brain starts shrinking. All this damage is visible through compromised cognitive functions.

Observable symptoms of cognitive impairment

Multiple cognitive function deficits can result due to alcoholism as alcohol affects a large portion of the brain. Difficulties in verbal learning and fluency, speed processing, attention, problem-solving capacity, impulsive reactions and working memory are some of the immediate symptoms. Precisely, memory, problem-solving and impulse control are some of the complex functions of the brain which are affected the most.

In teenagers, the brain is still in the development phase, hence, any damage to the brain can have devastating effects. In the absence of any treatment, cognitive impairment develops into a long-standing condition known as alcohol-related dementia. Moreover, malnutrition (especially vitamin B deficiency), along with continuous heavy drinking, also worsens cognitive impairment leading to the development of a permanent cognitive disorder known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which can cause amnesia and even coma.

Cognitive impairment and recovery

Fortunately, the brain has immense healing and restorative powers, therefore, if alcohol consumption is withdrawn on time, it may prevent any negative impact on the brain. Using MRI scans, it can be very easy to detect the extent of damage, as well as repair. The repair occurs in the form of regeneration of the lost brain tissue and revival of the compromised cognitive functions. However, relapse may reverse the regeneration process. Improvement also occurs from the alternate pathways adopted by the brain to perform functions when the tissue damage starts. However, most noticeable improvements take place after at least a year of abstinence.

Road to recovery

Long-term consumption of alcohol can cause severe damage to the brain which can severely affect the brain’s cognitive functions. The damage can arise from chronic alcohol dependence and frequent binge drinking.

Reaching out for support can make a lot of difference as alcohol abstinence could be a stepping stone towards a new beginning. If you or someone close to you is battling with alcohol addiction, you may get in touch with the Arizona Alcohol Addiction Helpline. You can call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-671-1510 to know more about various alcohol addiction treatment centers in Arizona.

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