Expert Insights: Alcohol Consumption and its Effects on the Brain

By: Dr. John Larson
Corporate Medical Director
Gateway Treatment Centers

People enjoy drinking alcohol for many reasons, but no matter what the reason, its effects on a person’s brain, both short- and long-term, are profound. As a solvent, alcohol passes to the brain very quickly and can cause acute damage to living cells. Once a long-time drinker becomes sober, it may be years before those changes reverse themselves, if at all.

video-screen-larsonThe chemical and physical changes alcohol makes to the brain make it especially difficult to quit drinking alcohol, from a single drink or continued abuse of alcohol.
Reversing the Damage?

There is some evidence that continued abstinence from alcohol may bring some improvement in brain function. The brain is pretty resilient and is able to form new cells through neurogenesis. We don’t know to what extent the effects of alcohol on the brain can be reversed but what we do know, is that neurogenesis is stimulated by alcohol avoidance, exercise, good dietary habits and by simply using the brain…

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To learn more about treatment options for alcoholism , or our free consultation, call Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers today at 877-505-HOPE (4673).

Holiday Reminder: Alcohol Weakens Willpower, Lowers Metabolism

alcohol nutrition, holiday drinking, gateway alcohol and drug treatment centersIn honor of National Nutrition Month in November, Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment points out to dieters and weight-conscious warriors that alcohol consumption not only significantly increases caloric intake and diminishes will power, it also grinds your metabolism to a screeching halt.

Most people don’t realize drinking alcohol temporarily prevents the body from burning fat. Since the human body is unable to store calories consumed from alcohol the way it does calories taken in from food, drinking causes the metabolic system to stop whatever it’s doing in order to eliminate alcohol-laden libations from the body.

“Imagine there’s a pause button that’s linked to your metabolism, which is pushed whenever alcohol is consumed. Calories consumed earlier in the day are set aside or stored. Since alcohol requires undivided attention, it slows metabolism and limits the body’s ability to burn fat,” explains Dr. John Larson, Medical Director, Gateway Treatment Centers.

Practically twice as calorie-laden as carbohydrates or proteins, alcohol contains about 7 calories per gram. While it may be tempting to conveniently ignore calories consumed from alcohol in daily goal trackers, being honest may help encourage more conscientious choices in the future.

Have you ever realized when you drink alcohol you are hungrier, and perhaps your insatiable appetite even stretches into the following day? Studies have shown in the short term, alcohol stimulates food intake and can increase feelings of hunger. Consider these statistics:

  • When alcohol is consumed before a meal a person generally consumes 20% more calories from food during the meal. Plus, when you add in the calories consumed from alcohol during a meal, average caloric increase jumps to 33%.
  • A study of more than 3,000 people showed consuming elevated amounts of alcohol is associated with abdominal obesity in men—aka the dreaded “beer belly.”

Clearly, having your judgment impaired with a stimulated appetite is a recipe for failure if you are trying to maintain weight or follow a weight-loss plan. Here are some tips to limit your calorie intake when consuming alcohol:

  • Drink as much water as possible.  Try to have two drinks of water for every one drink of alcohol.
  • Limit alcohol calories by choosing drinks containing less alcohol and a limited amount of sweetened beverages; try flavored seltzers or coconut water to save calories.
  • Select light versions whenever possible. “Light” means fewer calories, not calorie- or alcohol-free, so you will still need to limit your intake.
  • Always have food in your stomach before you have a drink so you don’t overindulge on salty snacks and other diet pitfalls.
  • Learn to sip your drink to make it last longer.
  • Use lots of ice because it makes your drink seem bigger without adding actual calories.
  • If you have to choose between fruit juice and soda in a mixer, choose fruit juice.
  • Avoid the salty snacks. They’ll make you want to drink more.

Keep in mind, to avoid health risks and weight gain, you should follow USDA moderate drinking guidelines—one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.  If someone you care about has a drinking problem, Gateway can help. Call  877-505-HOPE (4673) or visit RecoverGateway.org to learn about our free, confidential consultation.

Alcohol Awareness Month Reminder: Risks of Drinking Far Outweigh Rewards

In honor of National Alcohol Awareness Month, Gateway Treatment Centers takes a look at health risks linked with heavy alcohol consumption.

It’s been widely reported that regular light to moderate drinking can be good for the heart. But that’s only a portion of the story. With heavy or at-risk drinking, any potential heart healthy benefits are outweighed by far greater risks, including:

Injuries

Drinking too much increases your chances of being injured or even killed. Alcohol is a factor, for example, in about 60% of fatal burn injuries, drownings and homicides; 50% of severe trauma injuries and sexual assaults; and 40% of fatal motor vehicle crashes, suicides and fatal falls.

Health Problems

Heavy drinkers have a greater risk of liver disease including hepatitis and cirrhosis, heart disease, kidney damage, sleep disorders, nutritional deficiency, depression, stroke, bleeding from the stomach, sexually transmitted infections from unsafe sex, and several types of cancer including breast cancer. Heavy drinkers may also have problems managing diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions.

Brain Damage

The effects of alcohol on the brain can occur by both direct and indirect means. Thus, it is not really necessary that the alcohol actually reach the brain, though it does, for brain function to be modified.

Damage to the brain can occur through alcohol-induced deficiencies in nutrition, liver disease, and through alterations in the function of other bodily systems (e.g. immune, hormonal), which produce substances that end up in the blood and get transported to the brain.

Learn more health risks associated with alcohol consumption here.

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