The brewing of alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer seems to have started at the very beginning of civilization. The effects of alcohol on the individual and its capacity to alter behavior have also been known since the beginning of its consumption by different societies.
Although alcohol is not traditionally seen as a drug, it is considered as a psychotropic depressant of the Central Nervous System and its consumption is one of the highest among all psychoactive substances.
The chemical compound in alcoholic beverages is ethanol. If you remember from your Chemistry lesson, ethanol is a chain of two carbons and a hydroxyl group (-OH). When a person consumes alcohol, the chemical nature of ethanol makes it to be quickly absorbed and distributed through the blood reaching the central nervous system in a record time.
To understand the biological effects resulting from alcohol consumption, a literature review was conducted where articles published in different languages over the last 15 years were studied. This study helped to identify the signaling pathways in the brain that are modified and the biological effects resulting from its consumption. A few findings include:
- When the alcohol reaches the nervous system, it influences several neurological pathways exerting its properties as a psychotropic depressant. This influence actually is responsible for the neurological impact that leads to behavioral and biological responses observed in different degrees after consuming alcohol.
- Alcohol, as a psychotropic depressant of the Central Nervous System, is considered to act on the receptors of neurotransmitters. This action is responsible for the effects of alcohol such as sedation, loss of inhibition, and relaxation.
- Studies also document that long-term usage of alcohol has the potential to cause visible memory impairments. This effect is attributed to a gradual reduction in the brain’s hippocampal mass which facilitates our explicit memories, i.e., memories we can talk about, such as the previous day’s meal or the specific date of a historical event. The hippocampus is known to be necessary for the acquisition of this type of memory and recollection of memories, damage to this region reduces the capacity of individuals from creating new explicit recollections.
- The long-term use of alcohol also leads to an increase in glutamatergic receptors in the hippocampus, which in addition to its role in memory controls seizures or convulsions. As a result, during alcohol withdrawal, the glutamate receptors that have been exposed to the continuous presence of alcohol become hyperactive and can trigger seizures or even strokes.
After carefully reviewing a number of actions of alcohol on many central neurotransmission pathways, the researchers allude to alcohol as a potent “dirty drug” and a disorganizer of Central Nervous System.
For more details check out https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26466222