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If you have worked in the field of treating mental illness then you probably already know that antidepressants, and mood stabilizers do not mix well with alcohol or drugs. They also obscure the clinical picture. I trust this blog will be helpful.
Your Brain on Booze
Another way of looking at the effects of alcohol is by examining the parts of your brain it suppresses as you progress from happy hour to party to after-party:
- Frontal lobes: These parts of your brain, which “help you make decisions – good decisions – and control your urges,” become increasingly suppressed as you drink, White says. So after a few drinks, you might tell a co-worker how you really feel about him, or indulge in a midnight slice of pizza (or five). As you continue to drink, the effects may become more serious. “If you suppress [the frontal lobes] enough, then it becomes risky sex, jumping off a roof into a swimming pool and drinking more alcohol,” White says.
- Amygdala: This part of the brain warns us of danger and makes us feel afraid, worried and anxious. “One of the reasons that people seem to like alcohol is that it takes the volume of the amygdala and cranks it down,” White says. He gives the example of planning to have only a drink or two, because you have class or work in the morning. “But then you have your two drinks, and you’re like, ‘Hey, I’m not so worried about work anymore,’” he says. The hushing of the amygdala turns more dangerous as people become really drunk; they can feel fearless as their abilities to make decisions and control impulses weaken.
- Hippocampus: Here’s the part of your brain that makes memories. If you become really drunk really fast – say, with concentrated alcohol on an empty stomach – the alcohol can swamp the memory circuits before your brain has time to adjust. The result? A blackout, when the hippocampus is shut off or significantly suppressed. “In essence, you’re going through life, but it’s not being recorded, because those circuits have been knocked offline,” White says.
These three parts of the brain become “seriously suppressed” at about .15 BAC, White says. Then, “death happens when areas of the brain stem deep down in the base of your skull get turned off.” These “kill switches” are the reflexes that control breathing, keep the heart beating and recognize when something is clogging the airway. White explains why alcohol is so deadly: “Even if you don’t get killed in an accident or hurt somebody, if you go too drunk, you can just drop dead.”
Warning Signs of an Overdose
While there may seem like relatively few steps between tipsy and totaled, there are often plenty of warning signs of danger along the way. Look out for these clues in yourself and among your friends:
- Slurred speech, impaired balance and trouble focusing: At this point, someone is in the “danger zone,” White says. “If you can, cut them off, get them home and separate them from alcohol.” Monitor your friend for more severe signs, too, because you don’t know if his or her alcohol level is on its way up or down. White also says it's a "recipe for disaster" to continue drinking after vomiting, which is your body's way to reject a poison.
- Vomiting, slowed or irregular breathing, trouble remaining conscious or bluish skin color: “Once you’ve gotten to these signs, you should really stop even considering how to help your friend and get help,” White says. Call 911.
Please don't drink or use drugs while driving. The car is one of the most awful weapons on the earth.