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How Alcohol is Affecting Your Brain


Too often, results from alcohol can cause one to become dizzy, have slurred speech, or even impaired memory in the short term. However, too much can start to affect us long-term. Throughout our lifetime, our brain will experience five different stages, both physical and mental. While the brain physically continues to grow (age 11 for girls and 14 for boys), it matures mentally (and emotionally) until the mid to late twenties. The prefrontal cortex also plays a major role during this stage of life regarding decision-making, especially concerning alcohol. More specifically, this body part is responsible for planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. If making responsible choices, one can allow these functions to consume alcohol while living a healthy life.


Several factors can play a part in how alcohol will affect an individual's life:

  • The amount of drinks one consumes and how often
  • The age they started drinking and how long they have been drinking
  • Age, genetic background, family history of alcoholism 
  • The increased potential of being at risk (as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure)
  • Overall health status


Oxford’s Gray Matter Study

study conducted at the University of Oxford looked at the alcohol intake of 25,000 people and their brain scans. Drinking concluded a negative effect on memory problems and a potential risk factor for dementia. The results also showed that drinking any alcohol affected the brains gray matter (where pieces of information are processed). Overall, the study proved that higher consumption of alcohol leads to less volume of gray matter. 


Short-term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Short-term effects of alcohol can range from mild, common symptoms, such as vomiting and confusion, to fatal symptoms. Blackouts are typical for college students. Out of 772 surveyed, 51% claimed to have experienced one. Most cases of blackouts documented are a result of binge drinking (drinking too much too fast). Although some remember parts of their experience, others may not remember anything.


Long-term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Comparison samples were taken of female and male brain shrinkage by using imaging. The long-term effects of alcohol showed significant brain damage. Learning and memory problems resulted in heavy drinking for both males and females. Up to 80% of those that struggle with alcoholism are associated with thiamine deficiency. Thiamine (Vitamin B1) is a nutrient required by all tissues—including the brain—and some of those that have the deficiency will develop brain disorders later in life, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). There are two syndromes within the disease: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Psychosis.


Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a short-lived and severe condition that includes mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves, and difficulty with muscle coordination. Studies conducted after a patient's death revealed several cases of thiamine deficiency-related encephalopathy. The condition may go undiagnosed during life because the signs and symptoms aren't as easily recognizable.


Korsakoff’s psychosis, on the other hand, is a chronic and debilitating syndrome characterized by persistent learning and memory problems. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of alcoholics with Wernicke’s encephalopathy also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis. Those with Korsakoff’s psychosis are forgetful, easily frustrated, and have difficulty with walking and coordination.


Liver Disease

It is well-known that drinking can cause liver damage. However, long-term liver damage from alcohol consumption can also lead to brain damage, resulting in a serious and potentially fatal brain disorder known as hepatic encephalopathy. Changes in sleep patterns, mood, and personality are affected by this disorder. It can also cause psychiatric symptoms, cognitive effects, and coordination problems. In a worst-case scenario, a patient can ultimately fall into a deadly coma. 


Not everyone who drinks will experience these effects, but it’s crucial to be aware of the precautions. Certain alcoholic beverages can have positive benefits, too. Living a healthy and balanced lifestyle might include drinking in moderation. In the long run, it’s important to think about how one’s actions in the present can potentially impact their future health. 


If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call SAMHSA’s (24/7, 365 days/year) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).



Author :  Jennifer Dutton, Blog Writer, DrinkLyte Co. "Helping Grow CPG Brands Beyond Their Potential"