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Alcoholism: Learn all about its physiological aspects

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Understanding Alcoholism: The Physiological Aspects of Addiction

Have you ever wondered why people who drink are not able to think rationally? Why is it so difficult for them to make the right decisions? Does alcohol affect the brain? These are some of the common questions that a lot of people may have related to alcoholism. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism, and they are confused about how alcohol affects the body and brain chemistry, this article can act as a quick explainer.

Blurred vision, difficulty in walking, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory are some of the signs that indicate how alcohol affects the brain. The long term use of alcohol, beyond healthy limits, can have severe and permanent changes to your physical and mental health. Additionally, there are cognitive deficits that can persist well after achieving sobriety.

Physiological Basis of Addiction

Let’s dive deep into aspects such as the physiology of alcoholism, physiology of alcohol withdrawal, and physiology of alcohol addiction. In most cases, it is quite common to see that alcoholism runs in the family. It’s because of the genetic aspects of the underlying addiction. Many studies have suggested that there is 50% heritability for males and 25% for females, for alcohol dependence. Type one and Type two are two kinds of alcohol dependence variants. Type two is strongly genetic, and its onset occurs at an early age and is associated with criminality and sociopathic disorder; Type one occurs at a later age and is only mildly genetic.

The commonly known addictive substances such as depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens surge the supply of the natural stimulant, dopamine in different the brain areas like the nucleus, prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, thalamus, amygdala, and hypothalamus. These structures create a significant brain reward circuit, and the circuit is generally activated by reinforcers such as food, water, and sex.

Moreover, exogenous substances are known to generate potent effects as compared to natural reinforcers. Consequently, the natural drives may be classified as per the search for substances, and the addicted person may become dysfunctional in every other factor of life.

Symptoms/Signs of Alcoholism

Blackouts and Memory Lapses

The amount of alcohol consumed by a person is directly associated with the extent of memory loss. Moreover, a memory blackout is triggered by the intake of alcohol or any other substances. In this, long-term memory creation is impaired or there is a significant inability to recall past memories.

Most alcoholics usually tend to recall details that may have been presented for some seconds or minutes. After the alcohol intake grows, you can’t store information. You can’t recall details stored before the acute intoxication as well.

Fragmentary en bloc blackouts are known for partial blocking of memory formation, it happens for any events that occurred while you were intoxicated. A person with fragmentary blackouts frequently becomes aware that they are missing bits of events only prior to being reminded that said events have happened. Interestingly, such frequent reminders activate at least a few recalls of the initially missing details. Some research recommends that fragmentary blackouts are far more common than those of the en bloc variety.

Blackouts are more common among social drinkers than previously assumed. An important brain area, known as the Hippocampus, is severely affected by alcohol which leads to memory impairment.

Other signs include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lack of coordination
  • Anxiety
  • A blank stare
  • Nausea
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Impaired judgment
  • Hand tremors
  • High blood pressure
  • Weak immune system

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Different Aspects/Conditions

Neurological Disorders related to Alcohol

Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome: About 80% of alcoholics have a deficiency in Thiamine and a few such people can go on to grow severe brain disorders like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). WKS is a disease that includes two separate syndromes, a short-lived and severe condition known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy and a long-lasting and debilitating condition called Korsakoff’s psychosis.

The main symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyeballs (i.e. oculomotor disturbances), and difficulty with muscle coordination. Most of Wernicke’s encephalopathy patients do not display all these signs and symptoms, and medical experts working with alcoholics must know that this disorder can be present even if the patient exhibits only one or two signs. Moreover, autopsy studies specify that numerous cases of thiamine deficiency–associated with encephalopathy may not be diagnosed in life as not all the “classic” signs and symptoms were present or identified.

Alcoholic dementia: Another disorder that is quite similar is alcohol dementia. It is linked to white and grey cortical loss and can occur because of multiple interacting mechanisms. Moreover, there is more global impairment in memory function. Cerebellar degeneration with loss of Purkinje cells in the cerebellar cortex manifests as limb ataxia and dysarthria.

Alcoholic hallucinosis: It is not a common disorder and includes auditory hallucinations that are experienced in a clear sensorium. These are generally unpleasant and the patient is mostly distressed by them. The condition responds to antipsychotic medication, but if hallucinations continue for a few months they may continue indefinitely.

Alcohol and Its Effects on Women

Studies that have been conducted on alcoholic women (a) generally report neuro-psychological deficits in the same cognitive areas as have been reported in detoxified alcoholic men and (b) feature problems in executive functions and visuospatial abilities (Glenn, 1993; Hochla & Parsons, 1982; Nixon & Glenn, 1995; Parsons et al., 1987). In light of the general findings, it is reported that women on average drink less than men, drink for a shorter period of time than men, and yet display comparable cognitive deficits, it has been hypothesized that women are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of alcohol (Glenn, Parsons, Sinha, & Stevens, 1988; Hochla & Parsons, 1982; Nixon & Glenn, 1995).

However, in contrast to this assertion are studies (e.g., Silberstein & Parsons, 1979) showing alcoholic women to have milder cognitive deficits than men, although deficits tend to be in the same functional domains. Thus, it remains controversial whether alcoholic women display the same severity or pattern of deficits as documented in alcoholic men and whether observed sex differences are related to differences in lifetime alcohol consumption rates.

Treatment for Alcoholism

The treatment for alcoholism can be of different types, it depends on the needs of the patient. The treatment can be done as interventions, individual/group therapy, outpatient programs, or a residential inpatient stay. In the end, the main goal is to stop consuming alcohol completely.

Some of the popular treatment plans include:

Detox and withdrawal: This program will start with a detoxification process that is medically managed and supervised. The whole process will take up to seven days, and it’s done in an inpatient center.

Psychological counseling: Counseling and group therapy will help the patient understand the root cause of their alcohol problem, and it will support your recovery process. The counseling sessions will guide and help you identify your relapses so that you don’t relapse.

Oral medicines: Although the drugs provided will not cure you of your addiction, they block the good feelings that are caused by alcohol, thereby, preventing heavy drinking, and reducing the urge to have alcohol constantly.

Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation programs have a  high rate of recovery for a team of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors work towards tailoring a treatment plan that custom fits the individual and work towards enhancing their motivation to quit alcohol and also prevent relapses.

It is true that alcohol addiction is a curse to our society; fortunately, it is a curse that comes with a cure. If you are looking for reliable alcohol addiction treatment, get in contact with experts at Cadabams as we are one of the trusted names in this sector.

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Why Choose Cadabams?

Cadabams has been around for three decades and is known to have an excellent record of treating patients from different backgrounds, and they can handle various challenges that come up with alcoholism treatment. The expert staff have rich experience, skills, and resources to cater to the needs of different individuals; this makes them the top choice for treating alcohol dependence.

Our team of psychiatrists are experts in psychosocial rehabilitation, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT), and family-focused therapy that has proven to be highly effective in treating Alcohol Dependence. We have over two decades of expertise in handling the most complex and severe cases of Alcoholism.

Cadabams is widely trusted by various healthcare experts to help addiction relief with care and love. It is a comfortable facility where individuals are treated with attention, affection, care and concern. We offer an exclusive range of solutions and treatments that are based on the condition and issues faced by the patient.

Call us on our mental health helpline +91 96111 94949 for further details on getting alcohol treatment in India or alcoholism-related emergencies.

Disclaimer – We strive to treat our patients with dignity and the utmost sensitivity. We understand that addiction is a disease and not a sign of weakness. The term alcoholic or alcoholism is used not in a derogatory fashion but to remain relevant to user search trends and common usage. In case you or a loved are struggling with alcohol abuse and share a unique viewpoint on how we can improve this content for our readers, please reach out to us at

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