How Alcohol Affects the Brain

how alcohol affects the brain

Alcohol, without a doubt, does a lot of things to our brains. It affects the hippocampus, reduces glutamates, and reduces the size of people’s amygdala. Depending on the person and amount of alcoholic intake, the effects could be short term, or permanent. Of course, we are constantly being told about the altered spatial navigation, memory loss, and aggressive tendencies that come along with alcohol intake, but what about the ability to process peripheral cues? A peripheral cue is something that is utilized to fully comprehend the severity and emotion of a scenario. Alcohol, due to the biological alterations it makes, stuns people from being able to analyze scenarios to be able to react in an acceptable manner.

The hippocampus is a part of the brain responsible for the limbic system, which plays an important role in the consolidation of information. This means it directly affects long and short term memory, and navigation. Short term anterograde amnesia (inability to create new memories) is often concurs with alcoholic intake, but does it create retrograde amnesia (inability to recollect past experiences)? The way we react to different scenarios tend to rely on our past experiences. Considering alcohol’s affect on the hippocampus, perhaps this is why we lose sight of how to respond to situations. Perhaps this is why we are unable to recollect how to act and end up making the most obvious mistakes.

Glutamates are released by nerve impulses from the pre-synaptic cells. It plays a role in cognitive functions such as memory and learning, as well as decrease the time it takes to respond to events. We learn every second of the day. We learn from our own experiences, and other’s experiences. If we do not learn anything from our everyday lives, then we would have trouble learning how to adapt to scenarios in a safe and mature manner. The speed we are able to assess a situation is also key in recognizing peripheral cues because these cues are not always constantly there. It can be a glimpse of a hint. When glutamates decrease, it is likely what we have learned in the past gets caught in the dumpster, as well as slow down the ability to process information. Unable to recollect past lessons, learn as you go along, or quickly analyze scenarios, you would be left in a daze with a cloud blocking those peripheral cues.

The amygdala is in control of your emotions and the ability to empathise, along with the ability to make your own decisions. Part of the human psyche requires passion and emotion. It is prevalent in conversations, art, and life itself. Psychopaths have a smaller than average amygdala, causing them to lack empathy, understand emotions on a personal basis, and act irrationally. This does not mean drinking alcohol makes you a sociopath (although it does explain why some people tend to get aggressive), but perhaps the lack of emotions and decisiveness makes you more likely to miss the big picture. How are you to comfort someone who has lost a family member when you are lacking empathy and forgetting how you were to taught to react? The irrationality that comes with the altered ability to make decisions may also lead to unacceptable responses.

These are just a few factors on how alcohol consumption could possibly stun your ability to process peripheral cues. The hippocampus affects retrieving previous knowledge, changing the way you perceive events. The reduction of glutamates affects your ability to learn and retain memories, altering the way you think in general. The shrinking amygdala affects your ability to feel emotions and make good decisions, creating a sense of numbness and irrationality. These small changes created by alcohol consumption clearly shows a correlation to large, negative results in response to peripheral cues. You may view the same things, but you may assess and respond differently with a little help of alcohol.


Wrase, Jana. (2009). “Wie Alkohol in Gehirn wirkt”. Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie. Retrieved from

Moskowitz, Clara. (2011). “Criminal Minds Are Different From Yours, Brain Scans Reveal”. Live Science. Retrieved from

Rull, Gurvinder. (2013). “Peripheral Neuropathy”. Egton Medical Information Systems Limited. Retrieved from

Lee, Martin. (2010). “Alcoholism and the Endocannabinoid System”. O’Shaughnessy’s. Retrieved from

Allen, Suzanne and Boskey, Elizabeth. (2012). “The Aftereffects of Alcoholism: Alcoholic Neuropathy”. Healthline. Retrieved from

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