Saturday, January 16, 2010

Your Brain Loves Alcohol (or so it thought)

How Alcohol Impairs the Frontal Lobe

The Truth of the Matter
Can I tell you the truth? Your brain thinks alcohol is great! Unfortunately the whole situation is something like the "dog licking the bloody butcher's knife syndrome." They keep licking thinking "This blood is the bomb!" Not realizing it is their own and eventually bleed to death.

We've already established the fact that one of the most visible ways alcohol affects an individual is the loss of inhibitions causing them to display impulsive and reckless behavior similar to those with frontal lobe damage. Remember the frontal lobe is our "Seat of Judgment" or the "Executive Chief Officer" or you could just call it "The guy who decides right from wrong." The story goes something like this...

Bob's Bad Night Out
Bob was ready for a night of fun! Every inch of his body tingled as he pictured his suave, 200lb (unfortunately not muscle), pale, (hey he lives up north, cut the guys some slack) physique strolling up to Nancy to ask her for a dance. In fact his palms were sweaty already just thinking about it. The closer they got to the party the faster his heart beat. "No problem," he thought to himself, "once I get to the party I'll have a few drinks, calm down, and then approach my sugar doll (to be that is).

{Bob's thinking is right. A few drinks means he will "calm down" and have more confidence to
approach that "sugar doll" of his, but why? What goes on in Bob's brain that makes the difference?}

After just one beer (or was that two?) Bob felt great! He could feel that "inner hunk" beginning to surface. Little did he know that's not all that was surfacing. Let's grab Bob before he gets to Nancy and take a look at what's going on inside his head...

We see that in just minutes the alcohol has passed directly from the digestive tract into the blood vessels, and from there to other parts of the body including the brain. (Man that stuff's quick!) Well, now that we are up here (in Bob's brain) I'd like to introduce you to two friendly neurotransmitters (these are the guys who communicate with each other in your brain causing you to act, think, feel etc.) GABA (better known as gamma-Aminobutyric acid) and Dopey (better known as dopamine).

You may be familiar with Dopey, he's actually a pretty good guy. He comes around when you get sunlight, laugh, or do something fun, he makes you feel good. Well when Bob started drinking Dopey started working, but in overdrive, alcohol increases the amount of dopamine acting on receptors in the brain and enhances the normal feeling of pleasure associated with dopamine. Since alcohol contains ethanol which prevents the breaking down of dopamine Dopy starts multiplying like crazy. All this feels so good that your brain says "oooo...give me more" I think Bob's on about his 5th beer by now...

Don't go yet! Let's have a chat with GABA while we are up here. GABA is the guy that tells neurotransmitters STOP on the receiving end of the transaction. When alcohol is consumed ethanol teams up with GABA and paralyzes him for a while, keeping the doors open a bit longer than usual to allow chloride to take a stroll in the park. This guy chloride is like a shot of anasthetics to the brains neurons in the frontal lobe, with all those guys taking a nap your ability to inhibit socially unacceptable behavior is greatly reduced (IT'S LIKE YOU STUCK YOUR FRONTAL LOBE IN THE FREEZER! At least it looks like that's what's happened to Bob)...

Boldly striding over to Nancy he grabs her arm, "Hey babe, I know you've been watching me all night." Moving in for a kiss he's rudely adjusted by a slap in the face...(bummer, Bob, looks like a no go.)

In Closing
Well, Bob and his brain thought it would be a good idea, a night out with Dopey and GABA. Unfortunately the two of them were wrong. Too much dopamine distorted the truth, making Bob believe a lie (I don't think Nancy even knew he was at the party). And the freezing effect the alcohol had on GABA handcuffed the "Chief Executive Officer" making it near impossible for Bob to realize a kiss just wasn't the most appropriate move for the evening.

So friends take a lesson from Bob; because the crazy thing is all these actions begin to happen in the brain after just a few swigs. You don't need alcohol to have a good time, you need a sense of value. And trust me, you are valuable!

1)Even a little alcohol Affects the Brain, This online article written by Steven Reinberg contains a summary of the Research done by Dr. Richard Olsen on various GABA receptors.

How Drugs Affect Neurotransmitters, This site provides text and a diagram about the affects of GABA on a post-synaptic neuron.

FRONTAL LOBE CHANGES IN ALCOHOLISM: A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE, This site presents research data from those who studied the effects of alcoholism on the frontal lobes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Alcohol and the Frontal Lobe