Why does alcohol affect the brain?

Most evidence shows that if alcohol is taken in moderate quantities it does no serious harm to the body. In fact, some studies show that one or two drinks a day could benefit your heart, lowering the risk or coronary heart disease.

Many researchers are reluctant to accept these findings until they are more fully investigated, and point  quite rightly to the proven serious damage that alcohol is known to do to many vital organs in the body. It is clearly linked to diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and to high blood pressure. It is an important factor in thousands of road deaths and industrial accidents, and has costly fallout in a link with domestic violence, hooliganism, marriage breakdown and child abuse.

Alcohol is a drug that acts as a depressant on the central nervous system, lowering its activity. This results in less anxiety, a more relaxed attitude and greater confidence, which is why alcohol fuels so many social functions.

Many people believe that alcohol improves their efficiency. Because the feel more confident, they believe they are more competent. Tests show that any such feelings are illusory. It doesn’t take more than one drink to affect our mental and physical sills, particularly those such as driving, which demand good coordination and a sharp mind.

Alcohol acts quickly because it crosses the brain’s protective system, known as the blood-brain barrier. The brain depends on a controlled and consistent environment. Many foreign and mildly poisonous substances daily enter the blood stream. If these got into the brain, they would damage it severely. Because of the blood-brain barrier, chemicals composed of large molecules cannot move from the blood to the brain as they do in many other organs.

These organs have tiny and  porous blood vessels. The brain’s blood cells are linked so tightly that they are almost fused together. They will keep out large and harmful molecules, but they need to admit the small molecules of oxygen. In dong so, they cannot prevent entry to other substances with small molecules. Alcohol is one of these. If it had larger molecules, it wouldn’t relax us and it’s almost certain we wouldn’t drink it.

brain aneurysm  angiography“Like a red balloon”, a brain aneurysm, shows up in an angiograph. To obtain the image, a special injection is given in any artery, so that the vessel and any flaws will appear in an X-ray.


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