When impaired by alcohol, hippocampus is affected first, causing behavior to become looser and less guarded. Hippocampus is the part of the brain that stores memory.
The researchers found that moderate drinking over those 30-plus years was associated with degeneration and shrinking of the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory and navigation, as well degeneration of the brain’s white matter.
The cerebellum, an area of the brain responsible for coordinating movement and perhaps even some forms of learning, appears to be particularly sensitive to the effects of thiamine deficiency and is the region most frequently damaged in association with chronic alcohol consumption.
The regions of the brain comprising the “ reward system” use the neurotransmitter dopamine to communicate. Dopamine-producing neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) communicate with neurons in the nucleus accumbens in order to evaluate rewards and motivate us to obtain them.
Alcohol affects short-term memory by slowing down how nerves communicate with each other in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a significant role in helping people form and maintain memories. When normal nerve activity slows down, short-term memory loss can occur.
A new study finds that drinking alcohol can improve recall of learning that occurs before a drinking session, and that this effect is stronger with greater alcohol consumption.
“There’s usually some version of one’s true feelings that come out when one is drunk,” Vranich said. “People dredge up feelings and sentiments from somewhere deep in their brains, so what one says or does certainly reflects what’s going on deep down.
Drinking too much puts you at risk for some cancers, such as cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast. It can affect your immune system. If you drink every day, or almost every day, you might notice that you catch colds, flu or other illnesses more frequently than people who don’t drink.
There is evidence that the frontal lobes are particularly vulnerable to alcoholism –related damage, and the brain changes in these areas are most prominent as alcoholics age (Oscar–Berman 2000; Pfefferbaum et al. 1997; Sullivan 2000) (see figure 2).
Moderate alcohol consumption did not increase the incidence of frontal lobe shrinkage (odds ratio 0.98; 95% CI 0.73–1.33), whereas heavy drinkers were at a higher risk compared with abstainers (1.80; 1.32–2.46). The contributory rate of alcohol consumption for frontal lobe shrinkage was 11.3%.
Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain’s pleasure center. All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens.
The striatum and the OFC are the main brain regions involved in sustaining motivation.
Repeated exposure to an addictive substance or behavior causes nerve cells in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain involved in planning and executing tasks) to communicate in a way that couples liking something with wanting it, in turn driving us to go after it.