Fraud Blocker
TAKE THE FIRST STEP, CALL (888) 383-5207
TAKE THE FIRST STEP, CALL (888) 383-5207

Excessive alcohol use was responsible for about 178,000 deaths in the United States each year during 2020–2021, or 488 deaths per day. This was a 29% increase from 2016–2017, when there were an estimated 138,000 deaths per year. These estimates are from the CDC’s Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) application.

Alcohol can have devastating effects on the brain. Your whole body absorbs alcohol, but it really takes its toll on the brain. Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways. It can also affect how your brain processes information.

  1. Brain Health Risks Associated with Alcohol Consumption:

    • Transient Memory Loss and “Blackouts”: Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to memory lapses, commonly known as “blackouts.” During these episodes, individuals may engage in activities but have no recollection afterward. These memory gaps are concerning for brain health.
    • Hangovers: Hangovers are another consequence of alcohol use. They result from dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and the toxic effects of alcohol. While hangovers are usually temporary, they can still affect cognitive function and overall well-being.
  2. Ethanol and Brain Function:

    • Ethanol, the active component in alcoholic beverages, directly influences brain function. It acts as a “depressant” by activating γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) pathways, leading to slowed brain activity.
    • Acutely, alcohol consumption can cause uninhibited behavior, sedation, impaired judgment, and motor function issues. At higher levels, it can even lead to coma and death.
  3. Known Brain-Damaging Effects of Excess Alcohol:

  4. Alcohol Poisoning and Brain Function:

How Much Is Too Much?

“There is no designated ‘safe’ level of drinking,” says Dr. Donald. If you do choose to drink, your body’s response to alcohol depends on many factors. These include your age, gender, overall health, body weight, how much you drink, how long you have been drinking and how often you normally drink.

  • Those who drink occasionally tend to recover once they are sober. However, while their judgment is impaired, they may make poor decisions with lasting effects, such as driving under the influence.
  • Those who drink moderately, one or two drinks per day, can have a higher risk for breast cancer. They may also be prone to increased violence or accidents.
  • Heavy or chronic drinking occurs over an extended period of time, and it can cause lasting damage. For women and anyone 65 years or older, this is four or more drinks per day or eight or more drinks per week. For men under the age of 65, it is five or more drinks per day or 15 or more drinks per week.

For reference, standard drink sizes are:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits

Alcohol Misuse and Its Lasting Effects

Over time, excessive drinking can lead to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. It can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), which is marked by amnesia, extreme confusion and eyesight issues. WKS is a brain disorder caused by a thiamine deficiency or lack of vitamin B-1.

Alcohol can harm your body in many ways. The good news is that within a year of stopping drinking, most cognitive damage can be reversed or improved.

The effects of alcohol on the brain can be profound and concerning.

Short-Term Effects Initially, alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. It enhances the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which leads to feelings of relaxation and reduced anxiety. However, as blood alcohol concentration increases, these effects become more pronounced, leading to:

  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Impaired memory
  • Decreased coordination
  • Slower reaction times
  • Confusion and mood swings

These symptoms occur because alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, affecting areas responsible for balance, memory, speech, and judgment1.

Long-Term Effects Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to persistent changes in the brain. Long-term heavy drinking may cause:

The Adolescent Brain The developing brain is particularly susceptible to the effects of alcohol. Adolescents who drink may experience long-lasting changes in brain structure and function, potentially affecting their cognitive and emotional development.

Alcohol-Induced Blackouts Drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short time can lead to blackouts, periods where the individual cannot recall events. This occurs due to alcohol’s impact on the hippocampus, a brain region essential for memory consolidation2.

Alcohol Overdose An alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning, is a critical condition that arises when the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream is so high that it begins to shut down areas of the brain controlling vital life-support functions. Symptoms can include mental confusion, vomiting, seizures, and even death2

Conclusion The effects of alcohol on the brain range from temporary impairment to long-term damage. Understanding these impacts is crucial for making informed decisions about alcohol consumption and recognizing the signs of alcohol-related disorders.

For those struggling with alcohol use, seeking professional help is essential. Treatments are available that can support individuals on their journey to recovery and help mitigate the effects of alcohol on the brain.

Take the first step with Carrara Treatment