Josh Chandler | March 1, 2022

How Alcohol Changes Your Brain

The Brain and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol has long been known to affect an individual’s physical and emotional health and well-being when consumed regularly or in large amounts at one time. While alcohol use is often seen as a traditional method of socialization or a way to cope with stressful or unpleasant emotions or situations, there can be harmful consequences for your body and mind when you become dependent on alcohol. Alcohol abuse has been shown to create significant damage to the brain after engaging in heavy drinking and prolonged use of alcohol. Individuals can face adverse short-term and long-term effects on the brain, with some side effects having the increased risk of creating permanent damage. There is hope to address the concerns about the potential damage that can be caused by understanding what underlying reasons have been influencing your alcohol abuse with the support of alcohol addiction treatment. 

Click here to call Muse Addiction Center today. Our staff is available 24/7 to provide answers and begin the admissions process. Call (800) 426-1818.

What Happens to the Brain While Drinking

Consuming alcohol impacts your whole body, but it can cause a significant difference in your brain functioning. Individuals that drink alcohol will experience interferences and difficulties within the communication pathways within their brain and lapses inability to process information as their levels of intoxication begin to increase. This can create challenges in your decision-making skills, impact your impulse control and increase chances of engaging in high-risk behavior. 

As your alcohol consumption increases, your body could experience these levels of intoxication:

Subliminal intoxication

This is the initial stage of individuals with a blood alcohol content of .01 to .05 and will often occur for men and women after one alcoholic drink. Individuals will typically not show any visible signs of intoxication but your normal reaction time and ability to make judgment calls will become impacted. 


This stage is characterized by a blood alcohol content of 0.03 to 0.012, and many refer to this stage as “feeling tipsy.” Individuals will feel a sense of euphoria where individuals will feel higher levels of confidence, increased relaxation, and contentment. During this early stage of drinking, the brain begins to produce higher levels of brain cells called dopamine, responsible for “feel good” emotions that allow individuals to feel a false sense of happiness and joy as you no longer feel any stress or displeasure at that moment. This euphoric stage often becomes what individuals seek within their alcohol abuse. It allows for a momentary break from the emotional pains they are experiencing, and they feel as though they are numbing those unpleasant feelings with alcohol. 


Individuals will be considered legally intoxicated at this stage as the blood alcohol content will reach 0.09 to 0.25. The brain structure becomes affected through the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and occipital lobe. Side effects that may occur during this stage will impact each lobe-specific functioning, such as blurred vision, difficulty hearing, slurred speech, and lack of self-control. The parietal lobe can become affected during this stage, which is responsible for your fine motor skills and reaction time. This stage is often characterized by individuals experiencing dramatic mood swings, lack of impulse control, and, in some cases, nausea or vomiting. 


Individuals will often feel a powerful sense of disorientation as the blood alcohol content reaches levels of 0.018 to 0.3. Your cerebellum becomes significantly impacted during this stage, responsible for your coordination. The damage caused by alcohol will affect your hippocampus. Most people will experience blackouts or temporary loss of consciousness, loss of memory, and difficulty walking or standing, as this is the primary function of the hippocampus. Some individuals will find that their pain tolerance increases, which often results in high-risk behavior, and individuals will have an increased risk of injuries. 


This stage occurs once you have reached a blood alcohol content of .25. During this stage, you are at high risk for alcohol poisoning, and your ability to function mentally and physically becomes severely impacted along with your sensory functioning. Individuals in this stage are at an increased risk for suffocation while passed out or for becoming severely injured. 


If your blood alcohol content reaches a level of 0.35, your body is at extreme risk of falling into a coma due to a compromised respiratory and circulatory system, severely impacting motor skills and responses. 


Should your blood alcohol content reach a level of 0.45, you are at high risk of dying from alcohol poisoning and failure from the brain to control the body’s essential organs and vitals.

Of course, alcohol isn’t the only substance that can adversely impact your body. See how an allergic reaction to meth can harm your body here:

Signs and Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction to Meth

Short Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Consuming alcohol will have immediate impacts on your central nervous system functioning. It will vary in levels of impact depending on different factors, including how much alcohol you consume, your body weight, gender, and your own chemical and body makeup. These factors will play a role in the various levels of intoxication that you will inhibit after consuming alcohol. 

Within a short period after consuming alcohol, your brain will be impacted by communication connections and pathways within the brain functioning and become disrupted and showing an inability to process information coming in at the same rate and capacity you would if you were sober. As you increase your alcohol consumption, you will experience an increased level of intoxication, which impacts individuals’ overall mental and physical well-being and increases the risk of alcohol poisoning. 

Signs and impacts of alcohol poisoning are:

  • Seizure 
  • Confusion 
  • Inability to remain conscious 
  • Decreased heart rate 
  • Respiratory suppression 
  • Permanent cognitive impairment 
  • Death 

Long Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

For individuals that have drank a consistent or large amount of alcohol for a prolonged period, there can be significant long-term effects on your brain functioning and body that, in some cases, can be permanent or fatal. Those who have engaged in alcohol consumption for a long time are likely to develop an alcohol addiction, which impacts their ability to stop their use of alcohol even though they may know it is necessary to do so. This often perpetuates a cycle of alcohol abuse, creating more damage within your body and brain functioning. 

The long-term effects that alcohol has on brain functioning can range from the following: 

  • Heart conditions or complications 
  • Severe liver damage 
  • Digestion issues 
  • Cancer
  • Significant decreasing of the immune system 
  • Sleep patterns becoming affected, including concerns with insomnia or inability to fall asleep 
  • The onset of mental health disorders, including anxiety or depression 
  • Thiamine deficiency can result in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, otherwise known as wet brain, which can create side effects on the brain, including difficulty with coordination, consistent mental confusion, eye movement disturbances, and learning or memory impairment.

What Is Excessive Drinking?

Alcohol consumption is widely used within day-to-day life and social functions throughout the United States. This often makes it hard for individuals to differentiate moderate drinking from heavy drinking or problematic alcohol abuse. The severity and impact of your alcohol abuse will depend on your individual factors, including your gender, weight, overall health, length of time you have been drinking, and the quantity of alcohol you consume at one time. 

If you are someone whose alcohol intake is only on occasion, you will most likely only feel the effects of a hangover and can recover once you sober up. However, short-term impacts, including poor decision and judgment skills, can have long-term consequences, including drinking and driving. 

Alcohol Abuse and Mental Health

Alcohol can be misleading for many as it provides a false sense of confidence and an increased ability to socialize with others, leaving many to believe that it enhances their life rather than recognizing its impact on their emotional and mental health. As you consume alcohol, the effects on the brain will significantly increase, which creates disruptions in cognitive functioning and processes and impacts your overall mental health and well-being. This can often lead to an onset of depression or anxiety, and for individuals that have a pre-existing mental health concern, alcohol abuse can exacerbate your previous symptoms. As individuals experience adverse side effects from mental health, many will turn to alcohol consumption as a method of self-medication which creates a vicious cycle of alcohol abuse and mental health discord. For those individuals, you must have the support of a dual diagnosis treatment program to address your alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental health concern. 

Muse Alcohol Rehab for Heavy Drinkers

Muse Treatment is recognized as one of the best addiction treatment centers for the various addiction therapy methods based on the latest clinical and experimental research for addiction treatment. Our team of clinical addiction counselors and medical professionals will help provide you with insight into the underlying reasons for your alcohol addiction while providing you with the medical care you need to mitigate any health concerns from your alcohol consumption. Patients have the flexible options of choosing between an inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab format to best suit each patient’s needs and goals. Through our individualized approach to alcohol addiction treatment, we ensure to work alongside each patient while you rediscover your passion for life and love for yourself again. We are waiting for your call at (800) 426-1818 today to answer any questions you have about addiction treatment and can’t wait to get you started on the right path to sober living. 

Alcohol Addiction,Alcohol Detox,Alcohol Rehab,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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