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Human Brain. Alcohol Effects on Frontal Lobe Impairment

Abstract

The frontal lobe is the area of the brain of any mammal, which is considered to be the most important brain region in human beings. The frontal lobe is responsible for creative thinking, decision making, categorizing behavior, and other self-expressing activities. The abuse of alcohol is proved by scholars to damage the frontal lobes of the human brain or facilitate the impairment of the latter caused by a disease or trauma. In this paper, various ways of influence of alcohol abuse on frontal lobe impairments are considered with special emphasis on direct frontal lobe impairments, frontal lobe issues caused by various diseases and illnesses, and age-related frontal lobe impairments in the context of alcohol abuse. Studies by Abroms, Fillmore, and Marczinski (2003), Kubota, Nakazaki, Hirai, Saeki, Yamaura, and Kusaka (2001), etc. are analyzed to retrieve the scholarly data on alcohol effects on frontal lobe impairments.

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Introduction

The functioning of the human organism, as well as the organism of any mammal, depends on the operation of the brain to a great extent as the brain connects to all other elements of the body and facilitates their activities. The brain of the human being is divided into lobes that are responsible for various functions. The most important lobe in the human brain is the frontal lobe because this lobe is the phenomenon that makes human beings different from any other animal on Earth. The functions of the frontal lobe include making ethical choices, decision making, self-expression, categorizing objects of reality, and creative thinking. At the same time, there are numerous threats to the proper functioning of frontal lobes, and alcohol consumption, especially in abusive form, is one of the most dangerous factors for frontal lobe functioning (Fadardi & Cox, 2005, p. 13). This paper incorporates and analyzes the findings of various scholars regarding the effect of alcohol on frontal lobe impairments.

Scholarly Research on Effects of Alcohol on Frontal Lobe Impairment

Consumption Rates

The importance of the frontal lobe for the human brain and for the functioning of the human being as such is difficult to overestimate. According to Moselhy, Georgiou, and Kahn (2001), the whole epoch of human evolution can be referred to as the “age of the frontal lobe” (p. 357) as this lobe is responsible for purely human activities that are not typical of any other type of mammals or other animals. Numerous scholars argue that alcohol can seriously damage the performance of the frontal lobes of the human brain, but Kubota, Nakazaki, Hirai, Saeki, Yamaura, and Kusaka (2001) stick to the point of view that there is a considerable difference in effects of mild alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse of frontal lobes functioning (p. 104). According to the study by Kubota, Nakazaki, Hirai, Saeki, Yamaura, and Kusaka (2001), alcohol consumption might serve as a factor causing frontal lobe shrinkage, but the extent of the latter ranges from none to severe depending on the alcohol consumption rates:

Moderate alcohol consumption did not increase the incidence of frontal lobe shrinkage (odds ratio 0.98; 95% CI 0.73-1.33), whereas heavy drinkers were at a higher risk compared with abstainers (1.80; 1.32-2.46). The contributory rate of alcohol consumption for frontal lobe shrinkage was 11.3% (Kubota, Nakazaki, Hirai, Saeki, Yamaura, and Kusaka, 2001, p. 104).

Thus, considerable differences can be observed in the effects of alcohol on such impairment of the frontal lobe as the lobe shrinkage. Although the odds ratio is higher from the study results of the heavy drinkers’ sample, the contributory rate attributed to the alcohol abuse in facilitating the frontal lobe shrinkage is rather impressive. The rate of 11.3% is considerable, especially if it is synthesized into a proportion, according to which every 11 of a hundred people with reported alcohol abuse are at risk of frontal lobe shrinkage and further brain damage related to this issue. At the same time, no obvious relation between moderate alcohol consumption and the risk of frontal lobe damage is reported.

Alcohol Abuse on Disease and Age Background

Another interesting area of scholarly inquiry is the topic of alcohol influence of frontal lobe already damaged or affected by a certain disease of trauma. Scholars like Moselhy, Georgiou, and Kahn (2001) and Green, Saveanu, and Bornstein (2004) argue that the potential rate of frontal lobe impairment occurrence might be more frequent if both excessive alcohol consumption and a form of a brain disorder are observed in a person. Moreover, the course of such a serious disease as HIV and its effects upon brain functioning might be complicated by alcohol abuse as well (Green, Saveanu, and Bornstein, 2004, p. 250).Thus, alcohol abuse on a disease background constitute a serious threat to frontal lobes of a human being:

Subjects with bipolar disorder who also had a history of alcohol dependence demonstrated greater impairment in frontal lobe function than those with no history of alcohol dependence. These data illustrate that chronic alcohol abuse can complicate and compound other illnesses that affect the brain and suggest a need for an examination of the role of past alcohol abuse on HIV neuropsychological dysfunction (Green, Saveanu, and Bornstein, 2004, p. 250).

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According to the data by Green, Saveanu, and Bornstein (2004) alcohol abuse can not only be the reason for front lobe impairments but can also complicate the already developing impairments and brain damage instances. Green, Saveanu, and Bornstein (2004) and Jung (2001) argue that special attention in this respect is paid to consideration of people with brain disorders who also display signs of alcohol abuse. In this context, HIV, according to Green, Saveanu, and Bornstein (2004), stops being an immunity disease and can also affect the frontal lobe impairments if complicated by alcohol abuse.

Gilbert, P., Pirogovsky, E., Ferdon, S. & Murphy (2005) and White & Schwartzwelder (2008) also consider the age factor in the context of alcohol abuse and conclude that with aging the people displaying addiction to alcohol undergo a higher risk of frontal lobe impairments (p. 353). Thus, according to Gilbert, P., Pirogovsky, E., Ferdon, S. & Murphy (2005), Moselhy, Georgiou, and Kahn (2001), Green, Saveanu, and Bornstein (2004), and White & Schwartzwelder (2008), alcohol abuse accompanied by disease or natural aging can be a facilitator of frontal lobe impairment in the human brain.

Emotional Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Needless to say, numerous scholars like Drewe (1974) Hoffmann and Bill (1992), Malloy et al. (1993), Jentsch and Taylor (1999), and Lyvers (2000), as cited by Abroms, Fillmore, and Marczinski (2003), and Abroms, Fillmore, and Marczinski (2003) themselves consider the topic of the emotional manifestations of the effect of alcohol on the frontal lobe impairments. Thus, according to Drewe (1974) Hoffmann and Bill (1992), and Malloy et al. (1993), one of the major neurological manifestations of the frontal lobe impairment is aggressive behaviour: “Patients with frontal lobe damage often display impulsive and aggressive behavior highly dependent on environmental cues” (Drewe, 1974; Hoffmann and Bill, 1992; Malloy et al., 1993 as cited by Abroms, Fillmore, and Marczinski, 2003, p. 23). As well, describing these behavioural patterns of people suffering from frontal lobe impairments, the above-listed authors inquire about the reasons for such behaviours, and come to the conclusions that alcohol and addictive drugs are those reasons (Abroms, Fillmore, and Marczinski, 2003, p. 24).

Further on, scholars like Jentsch and Taylor (1999), and Lyvers (2000) develop the topic of the effects of alcohol on frontal lobe impairments, and explain the procedure of alcohol reaction with the brain chemicals and the emergence of aggressiveness and impulsiveness in people with frontal lobe impairments:”There is also growing evidence that the neural substrates serving inhibitory functions in these brain regions are also involved in the reinforcing effects of abused drugs such as alcohol” (Jentsch and Taylor, 1999; Lyvers, 2000 as cited by Abroms, Fillmore, and Marczinski, 2003, p. 23). Thus, Jentsch and Taylor (1999), Lyvers (2000), and Abroms, Fillmore, and Marczinski (2003) manage to find out that alcohol abuse not only facilitates the impairments of the frontal lobe but can also serve as a catalyst for frontal lobe impairments’ symptoms. Very often, the next step of the development of frontal lobe impairments is, as Moselhy, Georgiou, and Kahn (2001, p. 362) argue, either lobe shrinkage or the process of the cerebral atrophy, i. e. the diseases associated with the loss of brain cells and brain tissue in the frontal lobe regions.

Alcohol Abuse Consequences for Frontal Lobe

The work by scholars like Gupta & Warner (2008) develops the topic of alcohol abuse effect upon frontal lobe impairments. One of the central points made by Gupta & Warner (2008) is the possible emergence of cerebral atrophy as a consequence of alcohol abuse: “A review on the effect of alcohol on the frontal lobe noted that neuroradiological findings support the occurrence of morphological abnormalities in brains of chronic heavy drinkers, suggesting cerebral atrophy” (Gupta & Warner, 2008, p. 351). In arguing this way, Gupta & Warner (2008) consider various factors that include the toxic qualities of alcohol and its constituents, and the danger of this toxicity for the brain tissue. As well, Gupta & Warner (2008) consider the so-called oxidative stress as one of the reasons for potential frontal lobe impairment resulting from alcohol abuse (p. 352). Finally, these authors consider the factors of “mitochondrial damage and apoptosis” (Gupta & Warner, 2008, p. 352) as potential consequences of alcohol abuse and factors facilitating the frontal lobe impairments’ development.

Needless to say, opposing points of view can also be observed in the scholarly literature concerning neuroscience on the whole and the effects of alcohol on frontal lobe impairments in particular. For example, Alderazi & Brett (2007) stick to a rather careful point of view, according to which the negative effect of alcohol upon frontal lobes is not proven, especially if the alcohol consumption, or even alcohol abuse, is accompanied by the proper nutrition: “It has yet to be proven that alcohol consumption can cause persistent memory impairment in the setting of adequate nutrition” (Alderazi & Brett, 2007, p. 206). Thus, according to Alderazi & Brett (2007), the potential negative effect of alcohol on frontal lobe impairments can be reduced, or at least moderated, by proper nutrition. Nevertheless, even Alderazi & Brett (2007) have scholarly data to prove the potential of development of cognitive impairments as a result of the influence of alcohol abuse of frontal lobes of the human brain.

Cognitive Impairment Caused by Alcohol Abuse

On the whole, cognitive impairment as one of the alcohol effects upon frontal lobes is also widely disputed among scholars. On the one hand, Alderazi & Brett (2007) admit the possibility of cognitive impairment resulting from alcohol consumption and especially abuse: “Chronic alcohol consumption, however, can lead to detectable abnormalities in brain matter that are associated with impairment of perceptual and cognitive functions” (p. 206). However, in this argument, the word “chronic” is the keyword, and this brings the point by Kubota, Nakazaki, Hirai, Saeki, Yamaura, and Kusaka (2001) into the spotlight again.

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As Alderazi & Brett (2007), in the development of the idea by Kubota, Nakazaki, Hirai, Saeki, Yamaura, and Kusaka (2001), there is a great difference in health effects of alcohol abuse and moderate consumption of alcohol. The latter, according to Alderazi & Brett (2007), can often be useful for the brain as a whole and the frontal lobes as its significant regions: “People with moderate alcohol consumption seem to be spared these effects [impairment of perceptual and cognitive functions]. Furthermore, the Copenhagen City Heart Study and later longitudinal studies have shown a protective effect of mild-to-moderate alcohol consumption on the risk of developing dementia or cognitive impairment” (Alderazi & Brett, 2007, p. 206).

The same is the point of view by Galanter (2005) and Loeber, Duka, Welzel, Nakovics, Heinz, Flor, & Mann (2009), who argue about the danger of frontal lobe cognitive impairments for people addicted to alcohol, but also acknowledge the possible positive effect of moderate alcohol doses for frontal lobe impairment recovery: “Our results provide additional evidence for cognitive impairment of alcohol-dependent patients with regard to tasks sensitive to frontal lobe function and underline the importance of abstinence for these impairments to recover” (Loeber, Duka, Welzel, Nakovics, Heinz, Flor, & Mann, 2009, p. 381). Drawing from this, the fact becomes obvious that scholars are divided in their opinions about the effect of alcohol on frontal lobe impairments in the human brain, and only further research can state for sure whose point of view is correct and whose is a false one.

Conclusions

Thus, concluding this paper, it is necessary to restate that activities of the brain constitute the most important process for the functioning of a human being, and frontal lobes play a prominent role in this process. Alcohol abuse and chronic consumption are the greatest threats to the proper performance of the frontal lobes of the human brain. Although scholars are divided in their opinions about the negative influence of alcohol on frontal lobe impairments, there are points in which scholars unconditionally agree with each other. These points include the possibility of alcohol abusers suffering frontal lobe shrinkages, complicated frontal lobe impairments caused by other diseases and trauma, and the potential for cognitive impairments.

References

Abroms, B., Fillmore, M., and Marczinski, C. (2003). Alcohol-induced impairment of behavioral control: effects on the alteration and suppression of prepotent responses. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 64, 23+.

Alderazi, Y. & Brett, F. (2007). Alcohol and the nervous system. Current Diagnostic Pathology, 13, 203 – 209.

Fadardi, J. & Cox, W. (2005). Alcohol Abuse. School of Psychology, University of Wales.

Galanter, M. (2005). Alcohol Problems in Adolescents and Young Adults: Epidemiology, Neurobiology, Prevention, Treatment, Springer.

Gilbert, P., Pirogovsky, E., Ferdon, S. & Murphy, C. (2006). The Effects of Normal Aging on Source Memory for Odors. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 61, 58 – 60.

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Green, J., Saveanu, R., and Bornstein, R. (2004). The Effect of Previous Alcohol Abuse on Cognitive Function in HIV Infection. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 249 – 254.

Gupta, S. & Warner, J. (2008). Alcohol-related dementia: a 21st-century silent epidemic? The British Journal of Psychiatry, 194, 351 – 353.

Jung, J. (2001). Psychology of alcohol and other drugs: a research perspective, SAGE.

Kubota, M., Nakazaki, S., Hirai, S., Saeki, H., Yamaura, A., and Kusaka, T. (2001). Alcohol consumption and frontal lobe shrinkage: study of 1432 non-alcoholic subjects. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, 71, 104 – 106.

Loeber, S., Duka, T., Welzel, H., Nakovics, H., Heinz, A., Flor, H., & Mann, K. (2009). Impairment of Cognitive Abilities and Decision Making after Chronic Use of Alcohol: The Impact of Multiple Detoxifications. Alcohol & Alcoholism, 44(4), 372 – 381.

Moselhy, H., Georgiou, G., and Kahn, A. (2001). Frontal Lobe Changes in Alcoholism: A Review of the Literature. Alcohol & Alcoholism, 36(5), 357 – 368.

White, A. & Schwartzwelder, H. (2008). Age-Related Effects of Alcohol on Memory and Memory-Related Brain Function in Adolescents and Adults. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 193, 351 – 353.

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