Thursday, June 16, 2022

Does Alcohol Cause Brain Damage

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Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells

Real Question: Can Alcohol Consumption Cause Brain Damage?

A common expression to warn people to cut back on harmful behaviors is that they will kill their brain cells. As weve seen earlier, alcohol can fundamentally reshape and rewire the brain, but does it actually kill brain cells themselves?

Research from Harvard Medical School found that drinking damages the brains white matter, or tissue deep inside the brain that helps us process thoughts and governs movement, as well as transmits messages between the nervous system and other regions of the brain.

While Parkinsons Disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure can also damage white matter, alcohol can speed up this cumulative damage. Researchers found that alcohol particularly damaged white matter in parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling impulses, making it less likely that individuals will be able to cut back or quit drinking.

Luckily, researchers did see one glimmer of hope, as it appeared that this damaged white matter could potentially heal if drinkers quit drinking before they reached the age of 50.

While individuals who have consumed alcohol on a chronic basis for many years are at high risk of this type of damage, the risk is not limited to long-term drinkers.

An additional study found that damage to the brains white matter resulted in slower, less efficient thinking which can impact individuals for long periods of time, especially if they sustained alcohol-related damage to their brains at a younger age.

Effects Of Drinking On The Teenage Brain

While drinking alcohol can have a negative effect on anyones brain, it is especially harmful for teenagers. Teenagers are more able to go seek out alcohol than younger children however, their brains are still in the process of developing. When alcohol is used, it can affect brain development and inhibit a teens ability to learn correctly during a period when most of their focus is on their education.

Additionally, those who start using alcohol as a teenager are more likely than others to abuse alcohol as an adult. The use of alcohol can begin to rewire the brains reward system to seek out substances as a means of pleasure or coping, making it more likely that addiction to alcohol or other substances will occur later.

Sample Procedure And Exclusion Criteria

Our sample comprised 36,678 individuals of European ancestry from the UKB, all study participants whose data were available as of September 1, 2020. All UK Biobank participants provided written informed consent, and the North West Multi-Center Ethics committee granted ethical approval. Participants provided demographic and health information via touchscreen questionnaires. A nurse conducted a medical history interview, which included self-report of medical diagnoses and other conditions or life events that were used to evaluate eligibility to participate . Vital signs were obtained, and BMI was calculated as weight /height2 .

The data was provided by the UK Biobank and was already subject to quality control. We excluded individuals with IDP values outside a range of four standard deviations . Given the large sample size, we chose this lenient threshold as a non-trivial number of observations fall between three and four SDs away from the mean. The IDPs beyond the four SD range are likely the results of processing errors, or the corresponding individuals present severe brain irregularities . Note that excluding these outliers does not change the statistical significance or magnitude of our reported effects. The exclusion of individuals falling within three SDs of the mean does not change the results either.

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How Much Alcohol Is Too Much Alcohol

A unit is a measure of alcohol. You can find out how many units are in an alcoholic drink by reading the label. The NHS recommends not drinking more than 14 units of alcohol each week. This should ideally be spread over three or more days because binge-drinking is particularly harmful to the brain.

When a person starts drinking more than around 25 units per week on a regular basis, it may start to affect their ability to think and function properly.

Drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short space of time is known as binge-drinking. It is equivalent to drinking 8 units or more for men and 6 units or more for women. It has been suggested that older people should have lower limits because they are at greater risk of the damaging effects of alcohol.

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What Did It Find

What alcohol does to your brain

The main difference between the drinking groups was a smaller hippocampus the area of the brain important for learning, memory and spatial awareness in people who drank more.

Compared to abstainers, people who drank an average 30 or more drinks a week over the 30 years were more likely to have a smaller hippocampus. But even those drinking between 14 and 21 drinks a week had, on average, a smaller hippocampus.

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What The Study Said

A team of researchers from University of Oxford looked at data from 424 men and 103 women who are participating in the 10,000-person Whitehall Study, an ongoing investigation of the relationship of lifestyle and health among British civil servants. At the beginning of the study in 1985, all of the participants were healthy and none were dependent on alcohol. Over the next 30 years, the participants answered detailed questions about their alcohol intake and took tests to measure memory, reasoning, and verbal skills. They underwent brain imaging with MRI at the end of the study.

When the team analyzed the questionnaires, the cognitive test scores, and the MRI scans, they found that the amount of shrinkage in the hippocampus the brain area associated with memory and reasoning was related to the amount people drank. Those who had the equivalent of four or more drinks a day had almost six times the risk of hippocampal shrinkage as did nondrinkers, while moderate drinkers had three times the risk. However, the only link between drinking and cognitive performance was that heavy drinkers had a more rapid decline in the ability to name as many words beginning with a specific letter as possible within a minute.

Does Alcohol Cause Brain Damage


Alcohol is deeply connected with modern culture, especially in big cities. If youve lived in big cities, you can likely relate to this fact. Alcohol seems to be a normal part of peoples lives.

For some people, drinking alcohol is a way to relax after a whole day of office mess and stress, or for others, it may be a part of socialising to celebrate their happiness.

Although the findings are controversial, some studies have found that alcohol may show some health benefits if consumed at low to moderate levels. However, research also shows that alcohol can have damaging effects if you drink above and beyond the moderate level.

Long-time alcohol drinking can cause memory loss.

Brain damage is one problem that can occur in a person who has a pattern of heavy drinking. Long-time alcohol drinking can cause memory loss. Some of the brain damage and effects on memory may reverse after quitting.

Lets deeply dig into this.

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Alcohol Consumption In The Us

Alcohol is considered socially acceptable in the United States, and many Americans consume alcohol on a regular basis. Drinking too much, however, can be harmful to your health. Between the years of 2011 and 2015, alcohol abuse was responsible for about 95,000 deaths, and excessive alcohol use also caused the death of 1 in 10 adults between the ages of 20 and 64.3

The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that 139.8 million Americans aged 12 or older currently drink alcohol, 67.1 million were considered binge drinkers in the past month, and 16.6 million were classified as heavy drinkers.11

The NIAAA defines binge drinking as consuming enough alcohol to raise your BAC to 0.08 g/dl in a single occasion. This generally translates to 4 drinks for women and 5 for men within a period of about 2 hours. 2 Binge drinking can lead to the development of an AUD, and in 2018, 14.1 million adults ages 18 and older were reported to have an AUD. 11

How Does Alcohol Cause Brain Damage

Alcohol Related Brain Injury | Martin Jackson | Ausmed Lectures

Alcohol mainly shows greater deficits in executive and balance function compared to any other functional brain components.

Alcohol affects your brain within minutes.

Alcohol starts affecting your brain as soon as it enters the bloodstream, which is within minutes.

Alcohol is absorbed by blood vessels in the stomach and small intestine and processed by the liver. When alcohol goes into the bloodstream, it affects other parts of the body, such as your heart and brain. It interacts with your brains neurons to produce the effects you feel, such as pleasure and relaxation. The blood-brain barrier is a highly selective boundary that protects your brain from harmful or foreign substances, but ethanol can pass the barrier.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant it acts on the receptor sites of neurotransmitters, such as GABA and dopamine. With enough drinks, it will result in slurred speech and lethargic movement.

The automatic processes of the brain, which is controlled by two parts of the brain called the cerebellum and cerebral cortex, get impaired or slowed by alcohol. It results in slow breathing, imbalance of the body, slow reaction time, and more.

Over time, glutamate neurotransmitters are rapidly released by alcohol and create fuzzy feelings because of dopamine regulation in the reward centre of the brain.

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Alcohol And Brain Damage

Alcohols toxic effect can cause significant brain injury, referred to as alcohol related brain impairment and is more likely to occur if a person drinks heavily on an ongoing basis over a long period.

ARBI can also occur over a shorter time frame, and this is dependent on the amount a person consumes. This way of drinking is often referred to as binge drinking and that is when a person drinks a lot of alcohol in a single session on a semi regular basis.

Brain injury can be caused by alcohol because it:

  • has a toxic effect on the central nervous system
  • results in changes to metabolism, heart functioning and blood supply
  • interferes with the absorption of vitamin B1 , which is an important brain nutrient
  • may be associated with poor nutrition
  • can lead to falls and accidents that injure the brain

Diagnosis Process Of Alcohol

Men develop alcohol-related brain damage after 10 to 20 years of alcohol consumption. However, women may develop brain damage in a shorter period than men due to body size.

Generally, people between the age group of 45 to 60 are commonly diagnosed with alcohol-related brain damage. Typically symptoms take time to show up, and most of the patients usually have permanent damage when they finally receive the diagnosis from doctors.

However, the brain is a multi-functional part of your body, and it is capable of regenerating to an extent. With diagnosis and proper treatment, some brain damage can be cured and reversed.

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Symptoms Of Alcohol Brain Damage: Is It Reversible

After a big glass of wine, almost anyone feels a little warm and wobbly. Those who keep drinking may begin to slur their words, and they may trip and stagger when they walk. Someone who continues to drink may just pass out and cant respond to the outside world at all.

That same person may awaken the next day feeling a little queasy, and that nausea may be accompanied by a terrible headache. In time, those hangover symptoms wear off, and the person is back to normal once more unless scientists look closely at the brain of that person. Long-term, repeated alcohol use can lead to persistent changes within the brain. Those changes can make clear thinking difficult, and in some cases, the damage cannot be reversed.

Other forms of alcohol-related harm can be cured, but it takes time to make the changes felt.

How Abuse Is Connected To Alcoholic Brain

Infographics show the damage substance abuse can do to the brain

Thiamine is an essential nutrient used by all parts of our body that can only be obtained through our diet. Thiamine deficiency will cause damage to the nerves, brain, and heart. In the United States, abusing alcohol is the number one cause of thiamine deficiency and the development of WKS.

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to thiamine deficiency due to malabsorption and poor nutrition. Someone who drinks heavily does not eat a balanced diet and will not take in sufficient levels of vitamin B1 to meet their nutritional needs.

For our bodies to absorb thiamine, it needs to pass through the gastrointestinal tract and get transported to tissues in the body. Absorption is decreased in those who chronically abuse alcohol. Alcohol consumption also causes inflammation in the digestive tract, making it more difficult for our bodies to absorb thiamine. Heavy drinking also makes it difficult for our bodies to process and utilize thiamine in the bodys cells.

Thiamine is vital for building enzymes that play a crucial role in processing and converting sugar into energy. It also helps to create genetic material in the cells as well as chemical messengers in the brain.

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Brain Changes From Sustained Drug Use

Sustained abuse of certain substances can cause potential long-term neurological effects or changes to brain function. These include: . traumatic brain injuries, headaches, a range of persistent neurological and cognitive complications, and brain changes, including loss of gray matter, reduced hippocampal volume, and enlarged cerebral ventricles may occur as a result of chronic substance abuse.10 Potential consequences and brain changes can vary by substance and can include the development of some of the problems discussed below.

Are Changes In The Brain From Drug Use Reversible

Certain brain changes can be persistent or permanent, but this can vary widely depending on the type of injury and the substance of abuse. Many substance-related neurological complications or consequences may also be reversible.

WKS, for instance, may present with more chronic and debilitating effects, but when caught early and with proper treatment, WKS might be reversible in certain cases. Research has shown that even people who have suffered from a stroke can make some degree of recovery. Studies have also shown that brain shrinkage and reduced white matter volume associated with alcohol abuse may be reversible.24,25,26,27

NIDA explains that some of the neurological damage to the dopaminergic system appear, at least partly, to be reversible, with many neurological markers for nerve damage returning to normal after several months of abstinence.28 The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse points out that although it can take time, most people suffering from alcohol addiction will experience at least some improvement in brain structure and functioning with abstinence.3

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The Serious Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain

Most Americans drink, with about a third having at least one drink a day. The ubiquitous nature of alcohol in social life conceals an important fact: alcohol is a drug, and a potentially lethal one. In fact, alcohol contributes to 2.6 percent of American deaths each year.

While moderate alcohol consumption may offer some health benefits, compulsive or binge drinking can damage the brain. Alcohol brain damage symptoms vary from person to person, and are often similar to other symptoms, such as dementia. Here’s what you need to know about how drinking might damage your brain.

How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain In The Long Term

How Bad Is Heavy Drinking on the Brain?

When alcohol is consumed regularly over time , it can take a toll on the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex and regions of the cerebellum. The prefrontal cortex is linked to executive functions like planning and decision-making, and the cerebellum is responsible for balance and motor function.

When these portions of the brain are affected, it can lead to problems with:

  • Multitasking
  • Speech
  • Alertness

Even small amounts of alcohol can cause the entire brain to shrink if consumed habitually over an extended period of time. The reasons for this brain shrinkage are unclear, but because alcohol dehydrates tissues, constant dehydration may have negative effects on the brain.

Other studies indicate that smaller brains are also lighter in weight than those without an alcohol use disorder. The good news, however, is that some of the damage can be reversed when the drinking stops.

Excessive alcohol consumption is also linked to complex brain problems, such as:

  • Dementia: Impaired cognitive ability that becomes worse over time
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome : Chronic memory disorder caused by vitamin B1 deficiency
  • Alcoholic neuropathy: Damage to peripheral nerves, which is irreversible
  • Alcoholic cerebellar degeneration: Deterioration of nerve cells in the cerebellum
  • A progressive condition characterized by the corrosion of the corpus callosum, a nerve tract in the brain
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Brain damage or growth problems in a child incurred during a mothers pregnancy

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Low Levels Of Thiamine

A lot of the brain damage that is caused by alcohol happens because it prevents the body from getting enough thiamine . This is a vitamin that the brain needs to work properly.

People who are addicted to alcohol are also much less likely to have a balanced diet. They often get a lot of their energy from alcoholic drinks. This means that over months and years they have a higher risk of malnutrition, including a lack of vitamins such as thiamine .

Alcohol Consumption And Arbi

Alcohol is one of the most popular drugs in Australia. Around 40 per cent of Australian adults drink alcohol on a weekly basis and 10 per cent drink every day. Alcohol consumption ranges from light to heavy consumption.Alcohol related brain impairment is more likely to occur if a person drinks heavily on a regular basis over many years. A decline in thinking-related abilities is gradual and depends on how much alcohol is consumed and for how long. It is also possible to develop ARBI over a short period of time, if the drinking is excessive enough. This is known as binge drinking or heavy episodic drinking and is a short-term, high-risk way of drinking alcohol.Men and women who consume more than four standard drinks on any single occasion are at risk. Mixing alcohol and other drugs either illegal drugs or some prescription drugs can cause serious health problems.

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