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The Effects of Alcohol: How Bad Are They?

Low Amount of Alcohol?

12–24 drinks per week, on average, or more causes neurodegeneration (a slow and progressive loss of neuronal cells in specified regions of the brain).
The “On average” is important. It means that if you have1–2 drinks a day, or 3 each day of the weekend, you’ll have the negative effects either way.
Study: Associations between alcohol consumption and grey and white matter volumes
Results: People who drank 1–2 drinks on average per day (which is considered “low amounts”) experienced a thinning of the neocortex.

Alcohol Metabolism

Alcohol is water soluble and fat-soluble.
In other words, it can pass through all the cells and tissues of the body. This is what explains its damaging effects.
When you ingest ethanol (alcohol), which is a toxic substance, the body must convert it. How?
NAD converts ethanol into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is poison to the body, it kills cells.
Then, the body converts acetaldehyde into acetate, which is something that the body can use as fuel.
If the body can’t do this conversion fast enough, acetaldehyde will build up in the body and cause a lot more damage. This conversion happens in the liver.
This process is metabolically costly. And there’s no real nutritive value in the calories. That’s why alcohol is “empty calories”.

Alcohol Effects

The acetaldehyde is what leads to the effect of being drunk, which is a poison-induced disruption.
Regular drinkers, when they drink, feel very energized and feel very good.
Occasional drinkers have a briefer period of feeling good.

We know that weight loss hinges on burning calories. Calories measure the potential energy in food you eat in the form of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

Disruption in top-down inhibition

There’s a suppression in the activity of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (the area that is involved in thinking, planning, and suppression of impulsive behaviour).

Alcohol suppresses the neural networks that are involved in memory formation and storage.

There are also long-term neural circuit changes…

The more often people drink, there are changes in the circuits that underlie habitual and impulsive behaviour in ways that make those people more impulsive outside the times in which they are drinking. And when they drink, impulsive behaviour is even stronger.

This aspect is fortunately reversible.

If there’s a period of abstinence these neural circuits can return to normal, except in cases where the amount of alcohol was massive and was ingested throughout a huge number of years.

Food and Alcoholic Absorption

If you eat something prior to or while drinking alcohol, it will slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, particularly
if it includes all major macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein).
If you are already drunk and eat something, it won’t diminish your drunkenness.


Alcohol disrupts the mood circuits, by first making them hyperactive. Then serotonin levels drop (that’s why people feel less good and go for another drink). But as people drink more and more, there’s a depression of alertness and arousal. That’s why people pass out, get sleepy, etc. Chronic drinkers (and people with a genetic predisposition for alcoholism), as they ingest more and more, they feel great. that takes necessary nutrients to the body parts that need them. Once that glucose runs out, fat takes over. Harnessing energy by burning fat is referred to as ketosis.

Propensity for Alcoholism

Factors that might explain the propensity for alcoholism:
1. Energy: If you see someone who is energized by alcohol all night drink after drink, that’s someone who is more likely to have problems with alcoholism.
2. Blackouts: if you are someone who suffers blackouts, then the likelihood of having problems with alcohol increases.
3. Age: People who start drinking at younger ages, are more predisposed to developing alcohol dependence, regardless of family history

Alcohol and Stress

Alcohol changes the relationship between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenals → The HPA axis. People who drink regularly have elevated baseline levels of cortisol (not just when drinking, but always).

Consequently, these people have more anxiety and stress.