Alcohol affects the different regions of the brain in different ways:
└▶Cerebral cortex: In this region, where thought processing and consciousness are centered, alcohol depresses the behavioral inhibitory centers, making the person less inhibited; it slows down the processing of information from the eyes, ears, mouth and other senses; and it inhibits the thought processes, making it difficult to think clearly.
└▶ Cerebellum: Alcohol affects this center of movement and balance, resulting in the staggering, off-balance swagger we associate with the so-called "falling-down drunk."
└▶ Hypothalamus and pituitary: The hypothalamus and pituitary coordinate automatic brain functions and hormone release. Alcohol depresses nerve centers in the hypothalamus that control sexual arousal and performance. Although sexual urge may increase, sexual performance decreases.
└▶ Medulla: This area of the brain handles such automatic functions as breathing, consciousness and body temperature. By acting on the medulla, alcohol induces sleepiness. It can also slow breathing and lower body temperature, which can be life threatening.
In the short term, alcohol can cause blackouts -- short-term memory lapses in which people forget what occurred over entire stretches of time. The long-term effects on the brain can be even more damaging.