What alcohol really does to your brain and body

What alcohol really does to your brain and body

There is no recreational drug more widely celebrated than alcohol. And many people enjoy it—it helps us become happier, less wound up, friendlier, and before long we’re drinking another and another. Alcohol does this by performing a number of things inside of your system.

When you take your first gulp of beer or shot of vodka, the ethanol travels down to your small intestine and stomach, where it slips into the bloodstream. While some ethanol gives you energy through the liver, the rest of it starts messing with your brain.

In the brain, the ethanol messes around with your neurotransmitters, or the tiny chemical signals that act as the control board for the brain. Here are just a few of the effects that can happen to you:

Numbing Pain

Alcohol has a way to make the pain go away. Not just emotionally, but physically away. It does this by muffling your sensory neurons, preventing them from sending pain signals to your brain. However, this doesn’t happen to everybody who drinks.

Reversing Your Core Temperature

You may feel that drinking a couple of beers makes you feel incredibly warm, but the truth is you’re actually more at risk of hypothermia when you have alcohol in your system.

Why? Your brain has a part called the hypothalamus, which performs a number of functions, including the regulation of your normal body temperature. Whenever you start to feel cold on the outside, it’s your hypothalamus that’s in charge of redirecting your blood from your skin to your organs, thus keeping your core temperature safe. This is why your skin will start to pale when you feel cold.

Alcohol disrupts your hypothalamus, meaning that this normal process can’t occur. Instead, alcohol reverses it, sending more blood to the skin, making you feel warmer than usual and leaving your organs exposed to the cold.

Relaxing Your Behavior

GABA and glutamate are two of the most crucial neurotransmitters in the brain. GABA is in charge of inhibiting electrical activity in the brain while glutamate stimulates it. When alcohol is introduced into your system, it disturbs this balance of glutamate and GABA, as it cancels out your usual glutamate while enhancing your GABA. This results in alcohol being a depressant, forcing you to let go of your usual anxieties and restraints and become more relaxed and friendly.

Making You Want More

The interesting thing about alcohol is that while it acts as a depressant in some ways, in other ways it also stimulates your brain to want more. It does this by upping your brain’s production of dopamine. Dopamine is your “feel good” chemical, which acts as a reward and motivator in your brain; it’s the chemical that is released when you eat good food, have great sex, or play an exciting video game. As alcohol triggers the release of dopamine in your brain, it makes you want to drink more, which is why it can become addicting.

More Sleep, Less Quality

Alcohol can make it both easier to sleep and harder to sleep. How so? Since alcohol has sedative effects as a depressant, it makes it easier for you to shut your eyes and pass out (as some alcoholics unwillingly do). The problem, however, is that your sleep will never be as good as it would have been during an alcohol-free night.

This is because alcohol interferes with the important phases during REM sleep. With a night of disturbed REM sleep, you will not wake up feeling as relaxed or as fresh. You will also not be able to store memories from the night before, as undisturbed REM sleep is crucial towards memory formation. This is why many people do not remember “the night before”.

Sex: Up and Down

Sex can be a mixed bag when it comes to alcohol. For some people, alcohol can make the experience better; for others, it can dampen it completely. Generally, women on alcohol experience a decrease in pleasure but a rise in sexual arousal. For men, both areas experience a reduction.

There is a study, however, that confirms the common idea that people are more willing to sleep around when they find themselves intoxicated, as alcohol makes you believe that people are more attractive than they actually are. It should be noted that this was a small study with a questionable sample.

Alcohol: On Drinking Safely

The effects listed above are there to provide a general idea of what alcohol can do to your body. The truth, however, is that all of these effects can change from one person to another, with smaller factors like the time of your last meal, your weight, and your genetics all playing a role in how alcohol affects you, and to what extent.

Either way, one thing’s for certain: Consistently overdrinking can be very damaging to your brain, heart, and body, increasing your risk of cancer. Over one out of every 20 deaths worldwide is related to drinking alcohol. Stay safe on your nights at the bar.

These 5 Common Myths About Space Will Make You Question Everything You’ve Been Taught In School

These 5 Common Myths About Space Will Make You Question Everything You’ve Been Taught In School

While most of you have probably dreamed about being in outer space and being awed by different planets and suns, the truth is that most of what we know about space has come from Hollywood movies and science fiction shows. There’s a lot more to know, and science is only scratching the surface to find what lies out there.

Watch this video to see 5 common myths about space.


Astronomers Observe Strange Quantum Distortion in Empty Space for the First Time Ever

Astronomers Observe Strange Quantum Distortion in Empty Space for the First Time Ever

A team of scientists from INAF Milan and the University of Zielona Gora have observed a remarkable first ever vacuum birefringence. The Vacuum birefringence is a strange quantum phenomenon that had never been observed through a Very Large Telescope (VLT), only observed on an atomic scale.

It’s a phenomenon described when a neutron star is surrounded by an intense magnetic field that rises to a region in an empty space where matter randomly appears and vanishes.

A research team lead by Roberto Mignani were able to observe neutron star RX J1856.5 – 375 using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT). Neutron stars are not strongly visible but are 10 times bigger than our sun and have significantly strong magnetic fields percolating their surface and surroundings. The neutron star RX J1856.5 – 375 is about 400 light years from Earth.

According to Einstein and Newton, vacuums are empty spaces where light can pass through unchanged. However, research shows that space is full of virtual particles popping in and out of existence and strong magnetic fields such as the surrounding neutron stars, are capable of changing such vacuums.

Using the VLT, researchers were able to push the known limits of a telescope and explore deeper on neutron stars. Using the FOR2 instrument on the VLT, neutron stars were able to be seen with just visible light. Analyzing this data, researchers found the linear polarization occurring at a significant degree of approximately 16%, which is most likely due to the strange vacuum birefringence in the area around RX J1856.5 – 375.

Robert Mignani describes “The high linear polarization that we measured with the VLT can’t be easily explained by our models unless the vacuum birefringence effects predicted by QED are included”. Mignani is confident that future telescopes will provide detailed answers about similar strange quantum effects surrounding neutron stars.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.

Mindfulness As Effective As CBT For Psych Disorders

Mindfulness As Effective As CBT For Psych Disorders

Mindfulness group therapy may be just as effective as individual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for treating a wide range of psychiatric symptoms, including those related to anxiety and depression, according to a study published in the journal European Psychiatry. Over the course of eight weeks, Swedish researchers studied 215 men and women with depression, anxiety, and… (more…)

Neuroscience Learns What Buddhism Has Known For Ages: Consciousness is Everywhere

Neuroscience Learns What Buddhism Has Known For Ages: Consciousness is Everywhere

A new theory in neuroscience suggests consciousness is an intrinsic property of everything, just like gravity.

The theory, called Integrated Information Theory, states that consciousness appears in physical systems that contain many different and highly interconnected pieces of information. Based on that hypothesis, consciousness can be measured as a theoretical quantity, which the researchers call phi.

The theory treats consciousness as an intrinsic, fundamental property of reality.

Buddhists have a similar belief in what we in the West call ‘panpsychism’ — the belief that consciousness is everywhere and that we have to reduce the suffering of all conscious creatures.

The idea of universal consciousness

The idea of universal consciousness, is a prominent thought in Buddhism. And it has been largely dismissed by modern science — until recently.

There are already pressing and practical needs for a way to measure consciousness. Doctors could use phi to tell if a person in a vegetative state is effectively dead, how much awareness a person with dementia has, when a foetus develops consciousness, how much animals perceive, or even whether a computer can feel.

This is perhaps the more urgent task with the birth of computer intelligence. We need to be able to answer the question of whether a machine is conscious. Does it feel anything? If so, what rights does it have? What will be our ethical obligations towards it?

These may seem arcane questions, but as machine intelligence gets more sophisticated we’ll need to have a rigorous ethical framework to answer these questions. Integrated Information Theory may just offer us this approach.

For a perspective on how systems can acquire consciousness, see the idea on Ideapod, If Consciousness Emerges From Physical Systems, It Will Emerge From Artificial Systems Too. There’s a flourishing conversation happening around the post.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.