It’s Friday night, school is over for the weekend and if you are a university student and over the age of 19, you may be planning to meet up with some friends to have a drink or two.
Source: Flickr Commons by Simon Leloup
You may be aware of the term ‘drunk’ and ‘tipsy’ but the science behind why so many young adults turn to alcohol consumption after a long tiring day is that alcohol releases the brains ‘feel good’ chemicals called endorphins that produces the feeling of pleasure in certain areas of the brain. Although its evident that drinking can bring some temporary pleasure, it can have some severe negative consequences, especially when one consumes heavy doses of alcohol for a long period of time.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse when a person drinks heavily over a long period of time may be susceptible to have damaging effects on the brain such as the ability for the brain to form new long-term memories. Long-term alcohol consumption specifically can lead to significant inhibition of neuronal activity in the hippocampus, which is the area the of the brain that plays an important role in the formation of new memories.
Anatomy of the brain: The Hippocampus. Source: The Brain made Simple Website
Alcohol’s influence on memory appears to have a primary effect during the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory storage (see figure below). The modal model of memory originally proposed by Alkinson and Shiffrin (1968) state that intoxicated test subjects are able to recall information immediately after it is presented and are able to keep it active for 1 minute. Subjects are also able to recall long-term memories formed before they become intoxicated; however, once alcohol was consumed, test subjects began to show impairments in the ability to transfer information into long-term storage. When consumed for long periods of time even when subjects were sober again, they were unable to recall critical elements of events or the entire event while they were intoxicated.
A general model of memory formation. Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse website
Although occasional drinking can release some built up stress and bring temporary happiness; when consumed for long periods of time in heavy doses, it can severely hinder the brain’s ability to store long-term memories. So the next time you plan to binge drink, it may be worth considering the long-term consequences that chronic drinking can have on cognitive function.
For more information on the effects of alcohol on the brain:
AUD is a professional term in Biology to describe a pattern of drinking alcohol that involves problems in controlling amount. AUD can cause a lot of serious problems on health, social relationships and so on. An estimate made by a recent research shows 16 million people in the United States have AUD. This great number gives us a glimpse that the population of AUD is really huge.
What causes AUD?
Youtube: Designed to Drink? The Genetics of Alcoholism
Environmental factors such as cultural background, social relationships, and parental behaviors can all largely contribute to AUD. However, the inheritance of alcoholism has been found to be the main factor of AUD, which stands more than 50% of the reasons. A researcher called Schuckit conducted a study and concluded that the adult who inherits alcoholic genes from their parents are more likely to have alcohol dependency than the one without the biological background, suggesting the significant role of genetic factors. Other studies show that the people with alcohol gene are 6 times likely to have drinking problems.
How does gene cause AUD?
Youtube: Effects of Alcohol on the Brain, Animation, Professional version.
The effects of alcohol on the brain is dropping down the brain activities by restricting GABA. In the human brain, a neurotransmitter called GABA is responsible for the movement of brain chemicals. As GABA is significantly related to alcohol effects, researchers started to identify which gene in GABA is associated with alcoholism. GABA is affected by several genes in a part of a region in chromosome 15. Among these genes, there is a special version called GABRG3. This type of gene is very likely linked with AUD. However, the scientists still have no clues of the genetic basis of alcoholism. In other words, how the change of GABA gene related to the risk of alcoholism is not known yet.
Even though I discussed the main reason for AUD is the genetic factor, you should not regard alcoholism is a thing that you cannot get rid of. Alcoholism, indeed, is terrible in every aspect. So drink less and live longer.