How Neurotransmitters Work With Alcohol Abuse

Acute Alcohol Abuse

Initially, alcohol affects inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters. Inhibitory transmitters tend to block an action from occurring in the brain while excitatory are responsible for causing changes in the brain. Alcohol increases the function of inhibitory neurotransmitters while at the same time decreasing the function of the excitatory transmitters. This results in symptoms like decreased attention, incorrect or lost memories, and mood swings.

Alcohol Addiction

Eventually, long-term abuse of alcohol will create major problems with neurotransmitters. The brain will attempt to compensate for the depression and excitement of transmitters caused by alcohol. When a person with this condition does not consume alcohol, the firing of neurotransmitters becomes unbalanced, favoring the excitatory transmitters. This results in withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and deliriums. Another result of long-term alcohol abuse is the damage of neurotransmitters essential to proper brain function. This results in an imbalance of chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin, that are essential to mood regulation.

Dopamine has been deemed in the past as the pleasure chemical. It is believed to be a major reason why people find things pleasurable. Consumption of alcohol, along with other drugs, causes the release of excess amounts of dopamine into the brain, causing a feeling of well-being. This feeling is registered in the brain as a positive experience, or reward. Usually, this system is used to remind one to eat or procreate; however, with drugs and alcohol, it makes a person want to consume more on a regular basis. The creation of this new reward system also leads to withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is not consumed and thereby dopamine levels are not raised.

Alcohol's Effect on Memory

Long-term memories rely on the firing of several neurotransmitters in a function known as long-term potentiation (LTP). LTP results in the stimulation of neurotransmitters in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memories. Even short-term alcohol abuse can result in the inability for some of these neurotransmitters from firing, causing memory lose.

Another area of memory formation affected by alcohol abuse is the reduced functionality of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. The NMDA receptor is key in the development of memories. Acute alcohol abuse can cause the NMDA to not function properly, causing memory lose and distortion.