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How alcohol affects the brain.

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I had the unusual, albeit unhappy, opportunity to observe the same phenomenon in the brain structure of a man who was decapitated under the wheels of a railroad car, fueled by alcohol, and whose brain was instantly knocked out of his skull. The brain itself was intact and appeared to me within three minutes of death. It smelled most distinctly of spirit, and its membranes and tiny structures were vascular. It looked as if it had recently been injected with vermilion. The white matter of the brain was covered with red spots, and when it was cut open it was almost indistinguishable from its natural whiteness; while the dermal or internal vascular membrane covering the brain was like an exquisite network of coagulated red blood, and its fine vessels were tightly plugged.

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I should add that this condition extends in the cerebrum and cerebellum, and in the brain and cerebellum, but is not so marked in the medulla oblongata or in the beginning of the spinal cord.

Spinal cord and nerves.

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The effects of alcohol last beyond the first stage and the function of the spinal cord is affected. Through this part of the nervous system, we are accustomed, in good health, to perform mechanically automatic actions, even when we think or talk about other issues in a systematic way. Thus, a skilled worker will continue his mechanical work perfectly, while his mind is on other problems; thus, we all perform various acts in a purely automatic way, without the help of higher centers, unless there are more than ordinary things that require their help, which we take into account before performing them. In the presence of alcohol, these purely automatic actions cannot be performed correctly because the spinal centers are affected. In order for the hand to reach any object, or for the foot to land correctly, a higher intellectual center must be called upon to make the action safe. On top of this, there is soon a lack of muscle-motor coordination. The neural control of certain muscles is lost, and the neural stimulation is more or less weakened. The muscles of the human lower lip usually fail first, followed by the muscles of the lower limbs, and it is noteworthy that the extensors yield earlier than the flexors. At this point, the muscles themselves are losing strength; their response to nerve stimuli is more feeble than normal; they are also under the depressing influence of paralytic agents, their structure is temporarily disordered, and their contractility is reduced.

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This alteration in the function of the animals under the influence of alcohol marks the second degree of its action. In young subjects there is now usually vomiting with syncope, followed by gradual relief from the burden of the poison.

Effects on brain centers.

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The spirit of alcohol goes a step further and the brain or cerebral centers are affected; their power decreases and the controlling influence of will and judgment is lost. As these centers become unbalanced and fall into disorder, the rational part of man’s nature gives way to the emotional, passionate, or organic part. Reason now loses its role, or is confused by it, and all mere animal instincts and emotions are brutally exposed. The coward behaves more cowardly, the braggart more boastful, the cruel more heartless, the dishonest more false, the carnal more depraved. in vino veritas” expresses, even with physical accuracy, the true state of affairs. Reason, emotion, instinct, are all in a state of ecstasy, in a state of confused weakness.

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Finally, the effects of alcohol continue, the higher brain centers are overwhelmed; the senses are blinded, voluntary muscular paralysis is perfected, the senses are lost, and the body is a mere log, dead except for a quarter, on which alone its life still hangs. The heart remains faithful to its duty, and while it is still alive, it powers the breath. In this way, circulation and breathing, in an otherwise inert body, keep the body within the limits of life until the poison begins to wear off and the nerve center revives again. Happily for the drunkard, the brain usually fails so much sooner than the heart that he has neither the capacity nor the consciousness to continue his destructive process until his circulation dies. Thus, he lives to see another day.