Common health issueLifestyle

Brain damage due to alcohol: How it happens and how to treat it?

Alcohol and brain damage

Alcohol is consumed worldwide by adults. Though banned for adolescents, there have been innumerable instances where children have also consumed alcohol knowingly or accidentally. Though okay in moderation for adults, its overuse or chronic use is detrimental for humans and their body. They can have either or both acute and chronic brain damage and in many severe cases, these are not reversible.

Alcohol and its brain damage

Alcohol intoxication negatively impacts brain and brain health suffers. In the initial few pegs, the drinker feels elated and euphoric and hidden desires surface. But as the pegs increase, more bad effects on the brain unfold. These include slurring of speech, blurring of vision, imbalance of gait and movements, difficulty in walking, blunting of response times, and deranged memory. Additionally, they witness Blackouts and in this,  the person remembers nothing about the events.

In acute cases, these problems resolve but in chronic drinkers, these effects persist even for months after they attain sobriety.
These longterm effects might be merely some memory lapses and of mild severity. But in some it could lead to permanent brain damage requiring custodial care.

Factors influencing the brain damage of alcohol

Several factors determine how much damage of brain occurs in a person. These are:
1. Amount of drinks per day
2. Duration of drinking
3. Age at which first drink was taken
4. Gender of the person, Age, family history, and genetic background. Women are more vulnerable to blackouts and memory impairments.
5. Whether the person had prenatal alcohol exposure from mother’s drinking
6. And, Other co-morbid conditions in the person.

The brain damage in chronic drinkers may be serious and permanent. And it may be a direct effect of alcohol on brain or due to indirect effect from severe liver disease secondary to prolonged overconsumption of alcohol.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and liver disease

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is seen in as many as 80% of alcoholics and is a severe brain damage secondary to thiamine or vitamin B1 deficiency due to poor nutrition. This may be as Wernicke’s encephalopathy or as Korsakoff’s psychosis. In this, there is mental confusion, nerve palsies and incoordination in encephalopathy and in Korsakoff’s psychosis, there is persistent memory and learning problems.

Additionally, liver damage is invariably observed with chronic overuse of alcohol. And this liver malfunction leads to accumulation of ammonia and hepatic encephalopathy. As a result, conscious level, sleep, mood, personality is disturbed.

Treatment of alcohol’s brain damage

The most important thing is to stop alcohol and prevent further damage. Thiamine supplements in high doses and removal of ammonia from the body helps. Additionally, artificial liver and liver transplantation can overcome the problems due to a failed liver.

The developing brain is susceptible to damage and hence pregnant mother’s should avoid alcohol consumption during pregnancy. If the pregnant lady continues to have alcohol, fetal alcohol syndrome results. The baby born will have physical, mental, cognitive, and behavioral issues that would be permanent and irreversible. There is no cure for it and the child might even require custodial care throughout his or her life. Hence doctors should discourage pregnant mother’s from taking alcohol. They should counsel them on it and talk about the permanent damage of those drinks on the baby’s well-being and health.

Chronic alcoholics require proper support so that they can overcome their addiction and return to a normal with as less damages as possible. They need encouragement and psychological and moral assistance at all times. Some may even require financial backing and job assurances for getting on track again. Alcoholics Anonymous is an organization that looks into the care, support and rehabilitation of such chronic alcoholics.  It has helped many such ‘tipsy’ drinkers to return to family and social life and attain normalcy in life.