Binging and the brain

Now, where were we?

Yesterday at Upgrading-Morten’s-knowledge-about-Alcohol-and-Alcoholism-Course, I tried to figure out what happens to the body during a binge. I am really not sure I got everything right but at least I am starting to see the contours of a biological process that is centered around the metabolism that happens in the liver.

As most binge drinkers will know, the alcohol also affects our brains. And, from the thunderous hangovers that some of us have had the pleasure of experiencing, it seems as if the effect that alcohol has on the brain is massive! 

Actually, as far as I can figure out, we still really don’t know why we have a hangover. During a binge, the heart starts beating must fasten than it usually does because it realises that the organs need more oxygen and it has the machinery for providing that. A research study showed (I can’t remember when it was made or by whom. Probably a researcher…) that 20% more people die of heart attacks on Mondays than on any other day. The study suggested that the reason probably is be found in the heavy drinking that went on during the previous weekend… 

During a binge, the alcohol interacts with neurotransmitter receptors that are involved with long-term memories. What happens is that the momentary rise in alcohol concentration leads to high levels of ethanol building up in the brain and that blocks the normal activity at these receptors. As I understand it, this basically means that alcohol prevents memories from being formed.

Paradoxically, we are most vulnerable to binge drinking during the period of our lives when we are first exposed to alcohol, which is in our late teens and early twenties (unless you are a first-mover like me who started drinking during the early teenage years). As far as I can figure out, the brain is not fully developed before we reach our mid-twenties. One area of the brain that is particularly affected by the consumption of alcohol is the ‘motivational area’ (sorry, the term is probably wrong…) but it is basically the area that wants to have more fun. With a brain scanner, you can see that the motivational area increases its activity during a binge. When we reach the mid-twenties, we become better at resisting the sudden urges that may arise, say, during a binge. Well, some become better at it. Others don’t. They end up writing blogs posts into eternity.

But the positive news is that the brain is actually capable of recovering after a binge. Once we stop drinking, the functioning of the neurotransmitter receptors is back to normal. What I don’t know is whether this also pertains to heavy drinking that happens on a daily basis over long periods of time. I have to figure that in the next module, which is entitled ‘Morten-learns-about-real-alcoholism’.

Oh, I almost forgot: I promised to give the answer to the question about what is worst for the body: drinking 21 units in one night or 21 drinks spread out over the week. But I have decided that I will let the question hang for one more day. Because tomorrow I am going to review a documentary about binge drinking where they do that experiment. 


Documentary about binging

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