Elizabeth Para, Intern Counselor, MSOE Counseling Services
October 2008

This month’s newsletter comes from Outside the Classroom. It is a Boston-based health education company founded to address critical behavioral health issues. The company’s flagship product, AlcoholEdu, is a non-opinionated, science based online course that helps students make better decisions about drinking.

This is your brain
Your brain is an amazingly complex organ. It contains hundreds of billions of cells, some of which are several feet long. Brain cells come in two general types, neurons and glial cells. Neurons are the little information processing units of the brain, while glial cells perform a wide variety of roles, many of which involve nurturing neurons in one way or another. Each of the billions of neurons in your brain communicates with anywhere from 1 to 200,000 other neurons, forming an incredibly intricate network.

This is your brain during college
Until recently, it was assumed that most of the important changes in brain function occurred long before you entered college. We now know this is wrong. Changes in brain organization and function continue during you adulthood, and experience plays a key role in guiding these changes. The decisions you make about alcohol and other drugs could have important implications for how your brain develops.

This is your brain with a buzz
Alcohol produces a wide range of effects, from a mild buzz at low doses to death at high doses.  It does so by altering the activity of neurons in the brain. While some drugs have very specific effects, targeting just one or two chemical messenger systems, alcohol does not. Alcohol wreaks havoc in the brain, affecting just about everything the brain does at one dose or another.

Here is a partial list of the effects of alcohol:

  • Impairs motor coordination (e.g., the ability to walk/drive)
  • Impairs memory (e.g., produces blackouts)
  • Impairs judgment and decision making (e.g. people often they they’re OK to drive when they’re not)
  • Impairs impulse control (e.g., increases the odds you’ll do things you might regret later)
  • Impairs sexual function (e.g., causes impotence and decreases vaginal lubrication)
  • Can directly cause death

This is your brain long after the buzz wears off
Ever wonder why people often feel ill after a night of drinking? The short answer is that alcohol is toxic to the body and brain. If drinking during a single night can make you feel sick for the entire next day, it should come as no surprise that drinking heavily on a regular basis can cause some serious damage, including damage to your brain. Alcohol abuse has been linked with widespread changes in the size, structure, and function of the brain. Some of the areas hardest hit include the frontal lobes, cerebellum, and hippocampus, all of which become smaller and dysfunctional when alcohol is abused. If you think that only hardcore, lifelong heavy drinking can damage your brain, think again. One recent study suggests that alcohol abuse during the teenage years alone can cause damage to key bran regions, particularly the hippocampus.

Such findings might help explain why teenagers who abuse alcohol exhibit cognitive impairments (e.g., deficits in memory and reasoning) for at least three weeks after their last drink.

Links and Resources
Check out the following resources for more information:

MSOE Counseling Services creates monthly newsletters on mental health concerns and psychological issues. You can view the complete list of downloadable Counseling Services Newsletters.

MSOE Counseling Services is located on the second floor of the Kern Center  (K-230). To schedule an appointment with a counselor, call (414) 277-7590 or visit the Counseling Services homepage.