Drugs and dizziness

Intoxication with drugs that affect the vestibular system can cause dizziness and imbalance. There is often nystagmus, abnormal jerking eye movements that indicate that the vestibular system is not working properly. Usually there is also a tendency to stagger when walking, called ataxia. Most of these drugs affect the cerebellum of the brain, a part of the brain at the base of the skull used to coordinate movement and balance. Intoxication with certain drugs may also affect the inner ear.

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Stopping the spins

It turns out that alcohol is much less dense than the fluid of the inner ear.  If you drink a lot of alcohol over a short period of time, it can enter the cupula quickly through the bloodstream.  This lightens the cupula fairly quickly, in as little as 30 minutes.  The inner ear fluids don’t have a way to pick alcohol up from the bloodstream that fast, but only very slowly adjust over hours until the cupula and the fluids again have matching density. 

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Why does alcohol give me the spins?

We all know drinking alcohol affects the brain, starting with feeling tipsy.  If you’ve ever had a lot to drink in one sitting (remember that 21st birthday party?) you might have noticed another effect.  Drinking too much too fast can cause vertigo that becomes intense when you lie down.  This effect, called the spins, spinners, or bed spins, is caused by a direct effect of alcohol on your inner ear. It’s a mechanical form of vertigo.

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