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Alcohol, Your Body, and Your Brain


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What happens to the body when you drink?

When you drink, alcohol enters the bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine. From there it travels to the brain, and because it’s a depressant, it slows down the functions of your body.


Drinking alcohol:

Getting “drunk” (or intoxicated) is your body’s reaction to drinking too much alcohol. This happens when someone is binge drinking.


Additionally, when you’re drunk:

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is when someone drinks a lot of alcohol in a short period of time. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking occurs when a guy has more than 5 drinks (or a girl has more than 4) in about 2 hours. Binge drinking is extremely dangerous and can lead to alcohol poisoning.


What is alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is one of the most dangerous consequences of binge drinking. Alcohol is processed by your liver, and it takes approximately an hour to process a drink. So if you have more than one drink in an hour, you’re giving your liver more than it can handle. Although your body absorbs alcohol pretty quickly, it takes a lot longer to get out of your system. So if you’ve binged, you’re left with a body that can’t process all the alcohol that it took in, and you can get really sick.


Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

If someone you know has any of these symptoms, they need immediate medical help. Call 911 right away, and remember to never leave an unconscious person alone.


If you’re binge drinking, you might be so intoxicated that you don’t even realize these symptoms in yourself. This is just one reason why binging is so dangerous.


Alcohol and Your Brain

Scientists used to think that people’s brains were fully developed by the age of 10, but now there’s evidence that shows that the brain isn’t fully developed until people are in their 20’s, or even 30’s. What this means for you as a teen is that your brain is still developing, and alcohol could impair that development.


The last part of the brain to develop is called the frontal lobe, which affects both judgment and impulse control. As a teen, your brain is sophisticated enough that you’re able to learn lots of new things and retain them with a sharp memory. However, you’re also more likely to make risky decisions. So even though you’re smart and you think clearly, it’s harder to recognize what’s going to happen after you do something.


For example:

Your friends are drinking at a party. They offer you some beer, and it seems like a good idea at the time - lots of people are drinking and having fun. So, you drink with them, without really thinking about the consequences.


That’s where judgement and impulse control come in. You might drink before you’ve thought about what’s going to happen afterwards. How are you going to get home? Is there a designated driver? What happens if someone drinks too much and gets sick?


What other effects can alcohol have on my brain?


As a teen, you’re retaining new information and learning new behaviors. What’s interesting is that in your brain, the process of general learning is actually the same process as developing an addiction. So although you might think that you’re just having a few drinks once in a while, you’re exposing your brain to the learning process of drinking alcohol, which can lead to addiction later on.


Killing brain cells

Teens suffer longer lasting consequences from drinking alcohol than adults do. If you drink as much alcohol in the same period of time as an adult in their 30’s, they’re going to feel better sooner, and the alcohol is going to kill many more of your brain cells.


Because alcohol has serious effects on your body and your brain, you should NEVER ever drive a car after you’ve been drinking; even if you’ve only had one drink. According to the CDC and the US Department of Transportation, alcohol is a factor in approximately 41% of all deaths from motor vehicle crashes. You should NEVER get in a car with someone who has been drinking.


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Written by the CYWH and YMH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 5/14/2014



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