Alcohol: Go with the flow

Being alcohol aware can help us to be brain aware too, by going with the flow from which all our thoughts and feelings arise.

Our brain activity, like that of a road network, is altered by the demands placed on it, mainly from our bodies and environment.

Alcohol, like other psychoactives, alters the traffic flow by hacking the parameters, taking vehicles off the road and changing the traffic lights.

Paradoxically a slowed brain makes for greater excitement, just as a shopping trolley will give us a guaranteed white-knuckle ride.

A slowed brain can also make it easier for us to enjoy what is in front of us, with our capacity for wider thoughts reduced.

If we drink a very large amount we may find vertical and horizontal become harder to distinguish, and our limbs defy our commands.

When we stop drinking alcohol for the day the process goes into reverse, mental traffic is put back on the road at full speed.

Re-adjusting to this means our daily brain maintenance period, sleep, is not as effective, so we may wake less refreshed.

We may also wake to the even greater discomfort of a hangover, part of a typical return to brain network normality.

If we go through this slowing down and speeding up often enough, our brains may not re-adjust after just one day.

The symptoms of an incomplete re-adjustment vary, often including jumpiness, nausea, low mood, alcohol craving or cold sweats.

Beyond alcohol dependency, as these kinds of symptoms are often called, we might also find we get confused and forgetful, a kind of dementia.

As always, if we are concerned about our health, for whatever reason, the first step is to go and see our doctors, who can help find the cause and a solution.

Optimism is justified in the case of alcohol: We can expect to be relieved of symptoms after three months to a year with benefits long after.

If we drink no more than 14 UK units (140ml) a week the risks of developing problems are low. Sticking to none can be easiest.

Support and advice can be found from the likes of Club Soda, Soberistas, One Year No Beer and the UK charity Alcohol Concern.

For all the many problems alcohol causes it does offer us clues to positive habits, like slowing our mental traffic and lowering social barriers.

Being brain aware must means taking better care of ourselves, which has to include being alcohol aware.

Alcohol can upset the brain flows underpinning our well-being, flows which can be restored.

Note: This piece was written for Brain Awareness Week 2018, March 12-18, 2018.