Everyone knows what alcoholism means. Few individuals view it as a disease rather than an addiction. Is that an accurate statement, though? Is alcoholism a disease of the brain?

While the addiction vs. disease debate continues, new light shed actual effects of what alcoholism does to the brain. Consider these facts, then decide for yourself whether or not a dependency on alcohol be called a disease.

Are A Few Drinks Really That Bad?

Father And Son Drinking at The Bar with Dry Beer on a Big Glass

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You attended a night out with your friends! And, you got too many drinks from what you normally drink. Everyone experienced this. So, you probably know first-hand how alcohol affects the brain short-term. You experience blurred vision, slurred speech, impaired memory or start stumbling.

There’s nothing wrong with drinking a little too much every once in a while. This medical research detected not within the past decade. Drinking heavy on a regular basis bring long-lasting effects on your mental health.

The Effect of Alcoholism

Everyone gets affected by alcohol differently. But, there transpire a number of factors that weigh in on the effects it brings on your brain. These include:

  • How often you drink, and how much you consume each time
  • The age at which you started drinking
  • How long you have been drinking since then
  • Age, education level, gender, genetics, and alcoholism in your family history
  • Your overall health

So, no, a few drinks here and there comes not necessarily a bad thing. When drinking becomes a compulsive behavior or habit, then it quickly turns into a dependency.

The Blackout

woman in dress drunken blackout after the party with plastic cups

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One of the most common ways in which alcohol affects the brain arrives as a blackout. Otherwise, this comes known as a momentary lapse in memory. Blackouts occur for a matter of minutes to entire nights depending on how intoxicated the person is.

Once woke up after a night of drinking, surely do not remember the events of the evening. Then you positively experience this phenomenon.  As it turns out, blackouts come incredibly common among social drinkers. It occurs from drinking too much too quickly, otherwise known as binge drinking.

Typically, more than five drinks in two hours get considered binging. The potentially dangerous activities you partake in while blacked out are worrisome. Its effects taking place inside of your body seems detrimental. Continual binge drinking leads to irreparable damage over the course of a few years.

Signs of Alcoholism

Years of binge drinking lead to signs of alcoholism, including:

The longer a person regularly consumes enough alcohol to be considered binge drinking. Expectedly, the higher at risk it becomes for the organ and tissue damage. This occurs especially true for the brain, which suffers severe and persistent changes that affect your life.

WK Syndrome

Man Sipping Multiple Beer Shots

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Nearly 80% beget a deficiency in thiamine. This happens as a naturally occurring nutrient known as Vitamin B1. Continual deficiency of this nutrient leads to a serious brain disorder. This becomes known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which remains actually two syndromes in one.

Wernicke causes mental confusion, paralysis of the eyes, and poor muscle coordination for a short duration of time. This debilitating condition causes someone to temporarily lose the ability to walk. Also, it makes hard to find your way out of a room. Wernicke becomes not easy to detect since all of the symptoms appear not present at once or ever develop.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis

Most alcoholics who develop Wernicke’s encephalopathy later develop Korsakoff’s psychosis. This comes as another debilitating syndrome characterized by learning and memory problems. Individuals with this condition forget quickly both long-term and short-term memories, which causes a high level of frustration.

Korsakoff’s psychosis comes also known to cause problems with walking and coordination. Patients often need a walker or cane for assistance. You also hear this combination of syndromes called Wet Brain.

Alcoholism: Disease vs. Addiction

Woman Sleeping on a Sofa Suffering from Alcoholism

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Notably, it comes clear that alcoholism leads to diseases of the brain. This doesn’t answer the question, “Is alcoholism a disease of the brain?” We better understand where this condition lies on in the realms of disease and addiction. It comes essentially to understand the characteristics of both.


Those who develop addictions, to whatever substance, compulsively use that substance despite the harmful consequences. It takes over the person’s life by distorting their thinking, behavior, and bodily functions.

Different substances start being taken for their ability to alter consciousness. It happens as simple as how caffeine from a cup of coffee wakes you up in the morning. This gets similar as to how a glass of wine at the end of the night helps you sleep better. Drugs, legal or illegal, tend to turn into dependencies when a person takes them to relieve stress, feel good, or improve performance.

The Brain

Our brain begins to adjust to the level of substances a person takes. Similarly, it needs more to produce the same feeling. Often, coffee drinkers find that one cup in the morning makes not enough to keep them awake through the workday anymore. So, they own another cup in the afternoon to produce the same wakeful feeling.

While that seems harmless, there exists a change taking place within the brain. Your internal workings, synapses, begun to wire themselves to crave more of the substance. Over time, this leads to addiction in the form of intense cravings that affect judgment, decision making, and more.


Blonde Woman Staring In Front of Mirror with Bottle of Alcohol

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By definition, a disease remains a disorder of structure or function in the body. Each disease comes with specific signs and symptoms that affect a particular location within the body. Most associate the word with something like cancer or heart complications. Diseases come in a wide variety of forms that mean not always so easy to recognize.

Based on that definition, addiction becomes a disease when it starts to impact the brain’s ability to function correctly. It comes true that the substance cause impairment. The continued impairment seen in the absence of the substance constitutes this definition.

The Effects of Caffeine

We get back to a morning cup of coffee. It seems easy to see how having that cup of joe in the morning changes the way our brains function. Later in the day, a person craves that second cup of coffee. 

Here, the addiction comes classified as a disease. The person feels that they need it to function correctly or their ability to work gets impaired. Now, the brain craves another dose of the substance caffeine.

Shared Likeness

Addiction comes as a progressive, chronic, relapsing disorder of the brain. This happens not much different from the words used to describe Lupus or Alzheimer’s. In both instances, the effects taking place in the brain progress to a more debilitating level as they start a crippling impact on a person’s life.

The difference that anyone sees in a person did not choose to have Lupus or Alzheimer’s.  But someone most certainly chose to drink. Most importantly, that no one decides to become an alcoholic.

Minding Alcoholism in Your Drinks

If you’re a coffee drinker, you didn’t choose to need a cup of coffee every morning to wake up. You probably had a cup here and there to help you out on drowsy days when you felt more tired than usual. Now, your brain is just as addicted to that morning cup of coffee as an alcoholic is to a drink.

The progressive tolerance built up to any substance creates a dependence on it. Whether that’s alcohol, coffee, heroin or cigarettes, it all happens in the same way. Every time you give in and use the substance again, you have relapsing effects that create a chronic condition.

Dopamine and the Prefrontal Cortex

Woman Consulting Her Insomnia and Unusual Behavior to a Psychiatrist

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Have you ever crashed during the afternoon after a cup of coffee in the morning? It’s how companies like 5 Hour Energy sell their product. This gets done to convince you that you need them in order to stop that “2 p.m. feeling.”

When your brain takes a substance in, it releases an incredible amount of dopamine. This makes you happy or feels good in general. After the substance leaves, those dopamine levels come crashing down and leave you feeling sluggish, down, or somewhat sick.

The Body Reaction

Over time, your body stops making dopamine when you take the substance. That’s when addicts reach the point of using just to feel normal. Coffee drinkers often say they need that first cup in the morning to feel normal, talk to others, or even face the day.

At this point, the prefrontal cortex stops telling the rest of your brain that using this substance is a bad idea and instead does the opposite. The brain has been rewired. In other words, there is a disorder in the structure of the brain. This constitutes the definition of a disease.

Alcoholism: Addiction and Disease

Is alcoholism a disease of the brain? From definition to supporting evidence, the way alcohol dependency affects the brain is no different than how a disease would. Therefore, addiction indeed is a disease.


Featured Image: CC 0 by Public Domain, LauritaM, via Pixabay

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