Effects of Alcohol last long after you sober up

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Alcoholic beverages.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Alcohol continues to affect you after it has left your bloodstream.

Researchers are finding that the effects of alcohol are not limited to what we see or experience while the alcohol is present in the bloodstream. Those effects continue long after the liver has removed the alcohol from the bloodstream. Here are some of the things researchers are reporting about the effects alcohol leaves behind after it has done its work.

One of these lingering effects increases the risk that alcoholics or those with an alcohol use disorder will drink again.

1. Hangovers impair your driving skills.

One study measured attention, coordination, and vigilance in college students the night after they had consumed enough alcohol to become legally intoxicated. Students were tested one day and then again the next. Some students were instructed to not drink alcohol overnight, others were allowed to drink to intoxication. The following week the groups switched. This allowed a comparison of how students did on the various tests after a night of drinking or no drinking.

This study was done in the college dorm to avoid increasing the number of drunk people out on the roads. I did not do this research, just reporting what I read.

The results?

Students who had drunk to intoxication, that would be enough alcohol to reach a point one zero blood alcohol content (.10), were just as impaired the next morning when their blood alcohol content had returned to zero as they had been the night before.

You are just as impaired with a hangover as when you are legally drunk!

Actually, many of the subjects in this experiment were in worse shape with a hangover than when they were legally drunk. Memory, attention, motor coordination even the ability to plan were all significantly affected.

2. Alcohol causes the blood-brain barrier to “leak.”

The purpose of the blood-brain barrier is to keep things out of the head that does not belong there. It also has to let things in that the brain needs. This functioning as the brain’s border patrol is hard work for that blood-brain barrier. When that Blood-Brain Barrier is under attack, under the influence of alcohol, it has trouble doing its job.

One thing that gets kept out of the brain when you have alcohol in your system is glucose. Your brain may only be 2% of your body but it uses 20% of the energy, so a shortage of fuel develops quickly while all those alien Alcohol molecules are storming the brain’s border.

This is why so many hangover remedies include sweet ingredients. Without energy, the brain can’t work efficiently.

3. Impaired coordination lasts a long time.

At some point, and that precise level is still debatable, high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream alter or damage the part of the brain that controls coordination. Evidence of this comes from several sources.

Chronic alcoholics exhibit unsteady gates even when they have undergone detox and their blood alcohol levels are at zero.

Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome, the most severe form of damage to a child as a result of the mother’s alcohol consumption, exhibit a particular form of uncoordination. When moving their arms they move them much more rapidly when close to the body than when farther away. There is also a decided jerkiness to their arm movements. All of this points to Alcohol causing impairment in the brain’s ability to regulate motion long after there has been any physical presence of alcohol.

This impairment in coordination lasts into adulthood.

4. Alcohol shrinks the brain’s size and volume.

The prefrontal lobes of the brain shrink about 11% in those who have abused alcohol over some period of time. Other parts of the brain shrink also, resulting in an expansion of those blood-filled spaces called Lateral Ventricles by as much as 42%.

I have not found a source that quantifies this as to how much alcohol over how long a time this takes to happen. What has been established, at least tentatively, is how much of the damage to the brain can be repaired.

The size of the lateral ventricles seems to shrink with sustained abstinence. The ventricles shrink and the surrounding brain tissue expands and or grows back a little but not all the way.  The damage to the prefrontal lobes does not seem to be repaired.

This results in many people in alcohol recovery having impaired executive functions. They need to learn or relearn planning, scheduling, and decision-making skills.

Combine the changes in the brain with the loss of coordination and the result is 33% to 50% of all those with an alcohol use disorder will have cognitive or motor disorders in addition to difficulty controlling their consumption of alcohol.

5. Alcohol lowers inhibitions long after it has exited the body.

Most of us know that alcohol lowers inhibitions and allows people to do and say things that they would not otherwise do. What has been discovered recently is that a pattern of recent heavy drinking increases that disinhibited behavior. The result is that drinking heavily even if only for a while increases the risk of your making poor decisions even during times when you are not drinking.

One researcher observed that this residual loss of control is one more reason that people with alcohol use disorders are at high risk of drinking again even when they are trying to stay sober.  The brain really has rewired itself and the part of the brain that says “do not do that” is off-line for an extended period of time after a recent episode of heavy drinking.

There are other long-term consequences of drinking alcohol but let’s leave that for a future post.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

What is binge drinking?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Drinking

Binge drinking.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Why binge drinking matters.

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that has been linked to a host of physical, mental, and behavioral problems.

In the binge drinking pattern, the drinker consumes a large quantity of alcohol on one drinking occasion. Anyone might experience an occasional episode of heavy drinking but with consistently heavy drinkers or binge drinkers, their typical pattern of consumption is that when they drink the get drunk.

The concept of binge drinking relates more to how high the level of alcohol in the bloodstream goes rather than when or how much the drinker consumed over a unit of time.

So if someone chooses to drink a lot one night why is this of any concern to others? Why should it matter to the drinker if their pattern of drinking is a binge-drinking pattern? First the concerns and then some more precise definitions of what qualifies as binge drinking.

There are two principal concerns with binge drinking.

1. Alcohol damages the drinker’s brain and body.

The higher the blood alcohol content (BAC) the more damage to the body. Alcohol and its primary breakdown product, Acetaldehyde, are highly toxic to the body. In small amounts, the body can cope with this foreign substance. Above a certain point, there is damage to the body. A single episode of binge drinking is likely to leave minimal long-term damage. Repeated binge drinking will leave more long-term damage.

At high enough levels many substances can cause death. For alcohol, that point is a blood alcohol content around .60 (point six zero.)

Have one drink per day and it may be healthy, or non-harmful anyway. Save those drinks up and consume them all on one night and the damage may be permanent.

Blood alcohol level is also related to repeated head trauma (Winquist et al., 2008.) Long-term high levels of alcohol damages brain cells in the prefrontal cortex which may decrease by 10% or more. Binge drinking also causes cells surrounding the lateral vertices to shrink resulting in an expansion of this fluid-filled cavity in your brain by about 42%. Alcohol and especially heavy or binge drinking cause these cells in your brain to shrink resulting in more empty, blood-filled spaces in the brain (Wolerock, 2009.)

High blood alcohol levels also result in memory loss and the creation of false memories, a process called confabulation.

2. Intoxicated people hurt themselves and others.

At high blood alcohol levels, there is an increased risk of harming self and others. Most places set strict limits on the legal level of alcohol in the bloodstream you may have and still drive. Those limits are admittedly imprecise. Two people with the same blood alcohol content may not be equally impaired, but the higher the level goes for any given individual the more impaired they become.

Increasing blood alcohol levels reduce coordination, lower inhibitions, and impair judgment and memory. Intoxicated people, those who have binge drank on this occasion are 55 times more likely to attempt suicide. They are the major source of serious and fatal car accidents. They are more likely to commit crimes and harm others.

There are exceptions, sober people can do bad things, many intoxicated people do not commit crimes, but the higher the blood alcohol content the more the risks.

There is also a severe risk if the person binge drinking is or becomes pregnant. The unborn fetus does not have a developed liver. So mom-to-be needs to have her liver do the alcohol detox for this unborn child. We used to think a drink or two each day was OK. Now we are convinced that any alcohol during pregnancy is a bad idea and binge drinking is especially risky for mom and unborn child.

What is the definition of binge drinking?

Most definitions of Binge drinking are common sense approximations. Using blood alcohol content would be more precise but all that blood drawing is inconvenient.

The definition of binge drinking we use here in the United States is five or more standard drinks for a man, 4 or more for a woman on any particular drinking occasion. This is roughly the amount of alcohol that will make you legally too drunk to drive.

Standard drinks are calculated so that regardless of what you are drinking you can estimate how much alcohol is in your drink.

Despite what many people think, the alcohol in any alcoholic beverage is the same substance, ethanol. So this “I only drink Beer” I can’t have a drinking problem is nonsense. All those other statements about why one beverage is better than others, nothing to do with the alcohol.

When it comes to blood alcohol content, alcohol is alcohol.

In the U. S. a twelve-ounce beer is one standard drink. A four or five-ounce glass of wine is also a standard drink. If you are drinking whiskey, scotch, vodka, etc., then one ounce of a 90 to 100 proof beverage is a standard drink.

No cheating here

People will try to fool themselves. You know that drinking a tall can or 40-ounce beer is not one standard drink. Right? Neither is drinking 151 (a beverage with 75 ½ % alcohol.)

Alcohol content can vary from state to state or country to country. Outside the U. S., tell me the alcohol content of beers is higher. Pouring more of a beverage in a glass does not let you count it as one standard drink either.

The amount of alcohol it takes to make one person’s blood alcohol content reach .08 or .10 may vary. Some tell me it’s not fair that others can drink a lot and not get arrested for driving drunk and they ended up in jail after only a few. Why this happens is a subject for another blog post.

Binge drinking is not a moral thing.

Some people have argued that telling people to not binge drink is making a moral judgment. They should be able to tie one on if they choose. Choosing to binge drink, drink till you get legally drunk (or illegally drunk if you prefer that term) does not necessarily make you a bad person.

If you drive 60 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour school zone and a child runs out, your braking distance is a lot longer than if you were driving the prescribed 25.  There is more likelihood that you will harm a person’s crossing the street and if you hit them you could mess up the rest of your life also.

Similar case with binge drinking. If you binge drink this can increase the risk that you will damage yourself health-wise or harm others if you drive or are around them. We are just saying there is a warning out on this behavior.

Now if this is your typical pattern of behavior, when you drink you always binge and end up drunk this is a worry. If having developed some problems due to your excessive drinking in the past you continue to binge drink then this is a bigger problem.

If your drinking, binge, or otherwise is interfering with your life, consider changing your drinking pattern. If when you try to control your drinking you find you keep losing control, it is time for some professional help.

This blog is largely devoted to the topics of mental health and substance use disorders. Especially those times when people have both issues, which is called co-occurring disorders. Alcohol is one of the top problems in this area. Stay tuned for more on alcohol’s effect on your body, brain, and your mental health.

Past posts on this topic you may want to look at include:

Dangers of Binge Drinking

Alcohol prevents healing

6 Myths about alcoholism

Blackouts – common or rare?

What is confabulation? Relationship to false memories and Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel