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What Binge Drinking Does to Your Brain

or many of us, the festive season is a time for overindulgence: too much sugar, too much TV and too much alcohol. But, after a month of Christmas parties, seasonal cocktails and family festivities, you might be starting to wonder what all of this festive cheer is doing to your body.

Everyone deserves to let their hair down every now and then, but the throbbing in your frontal lobe after one too many eggnogs might have left you wondering “what is all of this actually doing to my brain?”.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting for men and four or more for women. It is the most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the U.S., with one in six American adults admitting to doing so.

Consuming large quantities of alcohol in a single sitting can be dangerous and is associated with unintentional injuries and alcohol poisoning. It can also have longer term effects due to the way alcohol interacts with our body and brain.

When we drink, the communication pathways in our brain get interrupted, affecting our balance, memory, speech and judgment. “The acute effects of alcohol are quite complex because it affects so many neurotransmitters,” Greg Sutherland, a neuropathologist at the University of Sydney, Australia, told Newsweek.

Henry Kranzler, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, said that this effect was correlated with alcohol consumption. “As the brain’s alcohol concentration increases […] the effects increase,” he told Newsweek. “These effects are also related to the intensity and length of alcohol exposure.”

Sutherland said the major effects of alcohol were as a sedative because of how the molecules inside it interact with the communication pathways in our brains.

This is because the ethanol in the alcohol blocks receptors in the brain that are involved in exciting your neurons, causing the brain to function more slowly. At the same time, alcohol also activates the receptors that are involved in making us feel calm and sleepy, which slows the brain down even more.

Because of this slowing-down of the brain, alcohol can be described as a depressant—something that reduces brain activity. One area of the brain that is particularly sensitive to these effects is the  the part of the brain that controls coordination and movement. As a result, we quite literally become tipsy and lose our sense of balance and coordination.

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