After alcohol intake, the cerebrum related functions like vision and speech is affected first and later on there's problem with the cerebellar functions like balancing and hand-eye coordination. My question is- why is it so? Why do they appear in that order? Like does it have anything to do with differential rate of absorption in cells, or anything else like related to anatomy rather than physiology.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Can you give a source for your statement? There is a big difference between being affected and feeling something. I would say your oral/esophagal and gastric mucosas would be the first body part affected (hence oral cancers in drinkers who smoke.) The liver is next. Alcohol affects a lot of body parts, so this question is fairly unclear to me. Could you possibly edit to make your question clearer? Thanks. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2017 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse - i didn't exactly read that in a book or anything. It's just a question which was asked in some competitive exam. Cerebrum was preferred over cerebellum as the answer. Plus, here, I'm talking about not the long term effects of alcohol drinking. I'm asking which body part is affected first just after intake of alcohol. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2017 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse -I think i have made my question a little bit clearer. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2017 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ The first body part(s) affected after drinking alcohol are the oral/esophagal and gastric mucosas. Have you ever swallowed whisky and felt it burn? As to cerebellum vs. cerebrum, read about which does what, and think about which is affected first when you drink. You'll figure it out. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2017 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse - i do get your logic. That's true that the mucosal lining will be the first affected part, then liver since the absorbed alcohol will go through hepatic portal vein to it. Then any cerebral effects should be seen. But my question isn't about what symptoms are seen and in what order. It's rather about why cerebral related things are affected first (like vision and speech) and then later on cerebellar symtoms appear like problems in balancing and hand eye coordination? PS: i can't do the practical you said since I'm 18 and 21 is an average drinking age in india!! Hehe =) $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2017 at 8:19

1 Answer 1


After alcohol intake, the cerebrum related functions like vision and speech is affected first and later on there's problem with the cerebellar functions like balancing and hand-eye coordination. My question is- why is it so? Why do they appear in that order?

It is and it isn't complicated. When you include what each does, it's an interesting question.

We know from experience (and even research, though the ethics of carrying out such research is questionable) that of the noticeable effects on the brain, the first part of the brain (that we can see the effects of) are on the cerebrum. At relatively low doses, the drinker feels more relaxed, more talkative, less inhibited. (there is also a measurable decrease in information processing and reaction time, as well as other less obvious effects.) All these are under the control of the cerebrum.

At this stage, the cerebellum is affected as well, but not grossly (in a manner that we can observe as change in behavior.) The cerebrum is critical to functioning; the cerebellum is critical to survival. Although it's presented as a teleological argument, the simple fact is that effects of alcohol and other sedatives on various parts of the brain are dose-dependent.

First, dose-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) changes were revealed in orbitofrontal (OF) and motor (but not cerebellar) regions; visual and medial frontal regions were unaffected. Second, cerebellar regions were significantly associated with driving behavior in a dose-dependent manner. Finally, a global disruptive effect of alcohol on the ICA time courses was observed with highly significant differences in OF and motor regions. Alcohol thus demonstrated some behavioral effects and unique, disruptive, dose-dependent effects on fMRI signal within several brain circuits. The fMRI data also suggest that the deficits observed in alcohol intoxication may be modulated primarily through OF/anterior cingulate, motor and cerebellar regions as opposed to attentional areas in frontoparietal cortex.

If you want to know why different parts of the brain require higher doses to become impaired, that is easy in theory but very complicated in reality. In theory, the brain is no different than any other complex organ in the body: it's made up of different cells. Sure, they're all neurons (excluding glial/etc cells), but not every neuron is the same, just like not every cardiac myocyte is the same. In reality, the answer is unknown.

Neuronal mechanisms underlying alcohol intoxication are unclear. We find that alcohol impairs motor coordination by enhancing tonic inhibition mediated by a specific subtype of extrasynaptic GABAA receptor (GABAR), α6β3δ, expressed exclusively in cerebellar granule cells. In recombinant studies, we characterize a naturally occurring single-nucleotide polymorphism that causes a single amino acid change (R100Q) in α6 (encoded in rats by the Gabra6 gene). We show that this change selectively increases alcohol sensitivity of α6β3δ GABARs. Behavioral and electrophysiological comparisons of Gabra6100R/100R and Gabra6100Q/100Q rats strongly suggest that alcohol impairs motor coordination by enhancing granule cell tonic inhibition. These findings identify extrasynaptic GABARs as critical targets underlying low-dose alcohol intoxication and demonstrate that subtle changes in tonic inhibition in one class of neurons can alter behavior.

The above sounds like a reason, but it is debated still. I think it's safe to say that like so many cellular reactions, the answer will come down to receptors and their activation or inhibition, be it for GABA/NMDA, combinations or others.

Alcohol impairment of behavior in men and women
Differential effects of ethanol on motor coordination in adolescent and adult rats
Alcohol Intoxication Effects on Simulated Driving: Exploring Alcohol-Dose Effects on Brain Activation Using Functional MRI
Modulation of GABA A receptors in cerebellar granule neurons by ethanol: a review of genetic and electrophysiological studies
Ethanol affects NMDA receptor signaling at climbing fiber-Purkinje cell synapses in mice and impairs cerebellar LTD

  • $\begingroup$ In the fMRI part; visual and medial frontal regions were unaffected. It means that they are affected but not in dose dependent manner. Am i interpreting it correctly? $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2017 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ It means (sorry to be a stickler) that no activity was seen at that dose on fMRI. I can't really say more. :) $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2017 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, got it! Thanks! It really helped a lot .No need to be sorry. =) $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2017 at 2:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .