First things first…With the right level of moderation, alcohol can be part of your healthy lifestyle. I love to enjoy an occasional glass of wine just as much as you, but if you start to overdo it, alcohol certainly has negative side effects on your entire system, especially your brain. Let’s take a look at what happens to your brain as alcohol travels through your body.
Let’s start with a little science lesson. Your brain is filled with neurotransmitters. Think of them as messengers that go from one neuron to another, helping them to communicate and pass along signals. These tiny chemical messengers are responsible for your mood, behavior and perception. And, drinking alcohol impairs your neurotransmitters. What this means for you is that the more you drink, the more slowed down your thoughts, movement and speech become. So that clumsy stumbling around is all due to the effect your alcohol is having on your neurotransmitters.
Let’s move on to the next part of your brain that alcohol tinkers with. It may go without saying, but alcohol also impairs your cerebellum and your cerebral cortex. These are the parts of your brain that control your balance, coordination, memory, thinking and learning.
And finally, booze isn’t doing your limbic brain any favors. This part of your brain is linked to fear, anxiety, depression, and aggressive behavior. It’s your emotional brain, that part of you that makes emotional matters seem more important than they really are. The limbic brain contains something called the amygdala – a set of neurons that triggers your fight or flight survival instinct. Too much hooch, and your amygdala will have a lesser reaction to threatening situations, which may explain why you’re more prone to risky behavior when you’re under the influence.
But here’s the twist…drinking alcohol also triggers your “reward center,” because of the release of dopamine. These “reward” or “pleasure centers” of the brain are activated by virtually all feel-good activities, such as going on vacation or getting a promotion at work. This rapid spike of dopamine levels tricks your brain into thinking that it feels on top of the world. But, the instant gratification can spiral out of control, because while you’re drinking to get a dopamine release, you’re simultaneously changing other brain chemicals to enhance feelings of depression.
I can’t talk about the brain without talking about the best medicine for your brain….Exercise. A combination of cardio, strength training, and yoga is being touted as a wonder drug for your brain. It has the power to completely change your mindset for the better. It can help you pick yourself up when your world is shattered, or inspire you to follow your dreams.