The end of a long year is quickly approaching, as many of us will grab our Champagne glasses and toast the New Year. Alcohol tends to be a part of celebrations for major life-cycle events, and inevitably the holidays, leading some of us to drink more than others.
So, how does alcohol lead to drunkenness, frequent bathroom breaks, and infamous decisions?
In the latest video, "How Does Alcohol Get You Drunk?" the American Chemical Society explains ethanol slows down our brain, and begins to control our thoughts and actions, by binding to two kinds of receptors — GABA and NMDA. GABA inhibits our behavior, so when ethanol binds to the GABA receptor, the neural message firing slows down, making us feel more calm, relaxed, and loosened up. Meanwhile, ethanol blocks NMDA receptors, which can make us feel tired, and interfere with our memory. The more ethanol we have, the less we'll remember, which is the cause of blackouts.
Simultaneously, ethanol can cause the brain to release the stimulants norepinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol, which hypes us up. Therefore, the more we drink, the higher our heart rate will be. Our airways open up and send more oxygen to your brain, which enhances our senses, making us more alert to lights and sounds. Also being released is dopamine, the feel-good chemical, that let's us know we're having a good time.
Alcohol And Bad Decisions
Drinking alcohol slows down our brain, releasing various chemicals that cause us to either blackout, or get hyped, which can eventually lead to bad decisions. Ethanol gums up pathways that keep the brain from getting the energy it needs to function at optimal speed, impairing our thought processes. Ethanol keeps other hormones out, including antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which means we'll feel the urge to pee more often. It also slows down other parts of the brain responsible for muscle movement, which is why we may stumble on our way to the bathroom.
Alcohol And The Body
After that drink crosses the blood/brain barrier, the functions that keep us alive, like pumping blood through our body, breathing, and body temperature can go haywire. This is one of the most dangerous ways which alcohol interferes with our brain. Ethanol can even mess with our body temperature regulator, causing us to feel warmer, which is why we may feel fine when it's below freezing out. Eventually, all these stimulant effects — norepinephrine, adrenaline, cortisol, wear off.
The effects of GABA and NMDA build up as we drink, meaning we’re often left feeling weary, forgetful, and generally slower. When we begin to sober up, we feel pretty tired and out of it, which is why it’s always best to drink in moderation.
Eating Before Drinking
Eating prior to drinking can slow down ethanol absorption through the stomach walls. With an empty stomach, it can take less than a minute for ethanol to go through the bloodstream and reach the brain to have profound effects on our cognition. Fatty foods take longer to digest, which slows down the alcohol absorption. This also applies for sugary mixers like soda or cranberry juice, which is why we’ll feel ethanol's effects quicker when we have a mixer of diet soda.
Alcohol has a unique effect on all of us, so it's a good idea to know our drinking limit.
This New Year's, it's best to eat a hefty meal before the libations, and drink responsibly.