Alcohol and the Prefrontal Cortex
Have you ever told yourself you weren’t going to drink that evening, and then found yourself driving to the store to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home from work? Or maybe you’ve been doing something that feels completely out of character, like hiding secrets from your spouse or compulsively shopping, but you feel like you can’t stop? Perhaps it feels like your attention and concentration is not what it once was.
These experiences may be partially impacted by the influence of alcohol on your prefrontal cortex (PFC), the place where our decision making, planning, inhibitions, and personality live.
Our frontal lobe is an incredibly complex structure of the brain. In a healthy brain, this structure is responsible for most of our higher functioning. Impulse control, predicting outcomes, risk assessment, planning, working memory (attention and concentration), and many other executive functions can be found in this center. Our personality lives here; our prefrontal cortex assists in behaving in accordance to our values, morals, and motivations. This is also where our brain synthesizes all of the signals coming from our more primitive brain structures. Our prefrontal cortex takes all of this information and creates a plan of action. Importantly, the PFC also promotes prosocial (socially acceptable) behavior and inhibits antisocial (socially unacceptable) behavior.