Alcohol dependence is always characterised by craving, a preoccupation with alcohol and continued drinking, in spite of harmful consequences. As a result of that alcohol dependence may also be associated with criminal activity, domestic violence and accompanied by an increased rate of significant mental health and physical disorders. Heavy alcohol use can lead to damage in certain areas of the brain and is known as alcohol-related brain damage, or ARBD. Scientists know that brain function can be affected by prolonged alcohol abuse; its structure and physical shape can also be altered, leading to serious problems. ARBD is responsible for mood, memory, and learning problems as well as changes in personality. Some of the symptoms of ARBD are similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Neuroscience and Brain Chemistry behind Alcohol Withdrawal
People with alcohol dependency are prone to be malnourished and suffer vitamin deficiencies, especially thiamine (vit B1). Thiamine deficiency is caused by poor intake (e.g. poor intake and frequent vomiting) or poor absorption in general. Though thiamine appears to have other adverse effects on bodily systems, the nervous system (central and peripheral) are most sensitive to the thiamine deficiency. Thiamine deficiency can cause thiamine reversible Wernicke’s encephalopathy which if not treated can progress to irreversible Korsakoff’s syndrome. Anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are all common results of alcohol dependency. This is because prolonged heavy drinking effects the neurotransmitters in the brain which regulate mood. Two of the most important neurotransmitters for mood are dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for creating the positive feelings vital for a healthy mind. Research shows that the levels of both serotonin and dopamine are often heavily altered in the brains of alcoholics, leading to deteriorating mental health and, often, a negative spiral of alcohol use. Changes in the brain chemistry also increase the risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. As mentioned, alcohol impairs the way in which the brain functions and it can interfere with the way in which it communicates messages and chemical signals around the body. It slows down signal transmissions, which explains why you might experience sedation and sleepiness when intoxicated. Over time, the brain will adjust to the presence of alcohol. It will increase the production of excitatory neurotransmitters to compensate for the depressant effects of the alcohol. Nevertheless, when alcohol supply is suddenly cut off, the brain is forced to respond and readjust again, leading to many of the unpleasant symptoms. You can read more about the symptoms by going to 'Alcohol & Human Body tab on this website.