What Does Science Say
Alcohol is a neurotoxin that damages cognitive function in multiple ways. Research indicates heavy drinking can damage neurons by inhibiting the development of dendrites. Dendrites are responsible for problem-solving, memory, and focus and are essential in the development of neurons.15
Researchers point to thiamine deficiency as the culprit. Many of those suffering from alcohol use disorder , commonly known as alcoholism, end up malnourished, leading to thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is an essential vitamin for the metabolism of dendrites.
Alcohol use also leads to loss of brain volume literally shrinking the brain. This does not just apply to heavy drinking. There is evidence to suggest this is also true for moderate alcohol consumption.2
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Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that the effects of alcohol on the brain appear in three main areas: the cerebellum, the cerebral cortex, and the limbic system. Symptoms shown by people suffering from alcohol-induced brain damage will be determined by the area that has been affected.
The Effects of Alcohol-Induced Brain Damage According to Each Affected Part are as Follows:
The Claim: Alcohol Kills Brain Cells
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THE CLAIM: Alcohol kills brain cells.
THE FACTS — When ancient Greeks wanted to reassure guests that their wine had not been spiked with poison, they toasted to good health. While that may be less of a worry today, there remain hazards from indulging in too much alcohol — including, of course, hangovers. But one thing people who drink socially probably don’t need to worry about is sacrificing brain cells in the process.
The research indicates that adults who drink in moderation are not in danger of losing brain cells.
The notion that alcohol snuffs out brain cells has been around for years. Many studies have linked drinking with mental deficits, and long-term damage from years of heavy drinking has been well documented. The developing brain is particularly vulnerable, some studies show, putting teenagers and unborn children at greatest risk.
But Dr. Roberta J. Pentney, a former researcher at the State University of New York at Buffalo, found that alcohol disrupts brain function in adults by damaging message-carrying dendrites on neurons in the cerebellum, a structure involved in learning and motor coordination. This reduces communication between neurons, alters their structure and causes some of the impairment associated with intoxication. It does not kill off entire cells, however.
Other studies, including one published in The British Medical Journal in 1997, have produced similar findings.
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The Damaging Effects Of Alcohol Abuse
Now that you know the answer to does alcohol kill brain cells, you may want to know what damage alcohol abuse can do.
Moderate drinking is generally safe for most people. However, alcohol abuse is another story.
The longer a person abuses alcohol, the greater the chance theyll develop brain damage, which could result in cognitive problems. Moreover, this is less likely than brain function impairment that many people suffer when they have too much to drink.
Alcohol is a depressant, and drinking often results in impaired judgment and coordination problems. In fact, long-term alcohol abuse may lead to liver and heart disease. The more someone drinks, the more likely theyll grow physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol.
Eventually, they may develop an alcohol addiction, which is difficult to overcome without proper treatment.
Animal Models Of Alcoholic Brain Damage
Animal and human brains are remarkably similar. Animal models therefore allow important detailed investigations of alcohol-induced changes in brain chemistry gene expression cellular physiology, including cell proliferation and cell death as well as the resulting alterations in neuroanatomy and brain function. Alcohol-induced brain atrophy and neurodegeneration is modeled in rats and mice by investigator-administered alcohol, by providing liquid diets that contain alcohol and are the only source of food or by a vapor chamber, all of which achieve high blood alcohol concentrations . In most cases, complete vitamin-enriched diets are used to assure that alcohol is the damaging agent and not vitamin deficiency. In humans, vitamin deficiencies can cause neurodegeneration. Although most alcoholics do not show pronounced vitamin deficiencies, it is possible that human alcoholic neurodegeneration includes a component related to transient vitamin deficiencies during heavy-drinking episodes . were the first to show alcohol-induced neurodegeneration in rats. The study found that feeding rats a nutritious liquid diet containing alcohol for 5 months, followed by 2 months of abstinence, resulted in a loss of brain neurons, specifically types of neurons known as hippocampal pyramidal and dentate granule cells.
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Alcohol Doesnt Kill Brain Cells But It Does Cause Brain Damage
The way we talk about alcohol damage to our brain and body might be off, but the general idea isnt. Alcohol does do serious damage to the brain.
Although alcohol doesnt kill brain cells, it does damage dendrites, the branch-like ends of our brain cells that pass along messages from one neuron to another.
When this happens, we develop cognitive problems. We lose our ability to function properly. It impacts our coordination, sleep, and memory. In more severe cases, brain damage from drinking can lead to coma or death.
What Parts Of The Brain Does Alcohol Affect
The brain controls our thoughts, emotions, memory, motor functions, temperature, senses, organs, and autonomic activities like breathing. Alcohol can have an adverse health impact on all of these vital brain functions.
- The Cerebral Cortex is the thinking center of our consciousness. Its where we process incoming information and where we formulate judgments and decisions. Alcohol depresses this function, slowing the input of sensory information, clouding the thought process, and reducing inhibitions. Long-term use of alcohol can permanently damage the cerebral cortex.
- The Cerebellum is the center of movement, coordination, equilibrium, and balance. Alcohol impairs this brain region, affecting our balance, causing us to be unsteady, stagger, and possibly fall. It may also cause our hands to shake.
- The Hypothalamus and the Pituitary work together to link the nervous system to the endocrine system. This region of the brain both stimulates and inhibits key hormonal processes in order to maintain the bodys internal balance. Alcohol depresses and disrupts the balance of these systems, as well as impacting sexual desire and performance. Sexual desire may intensify, but the ability to perform may be impaired.
- The Hippocampus controls the memory. Alcohol affects this area, causing blackouts, memory loss, and impacting the ability to learn. Long-term use of alcohol can permanently affect the memory and can contribute to dementia.
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Does Alcohol Really Kill Brain Cells Dead
In our formative years, health education teachers tried to scare the holy-living bejeebus out of us by suggesting that all of the pleasures we would soon find in life the sex, drugs and rock n roll would somehow, someway come back to haunt us with a hellish vengeance. To prove their point, these textbook weirdos would make us watch poorly produced videos with lame titles like Sex and You or some shit. These films often chronicled the miserable existence of one or two weasel dick teens from the mid-70s whose dongs were probably going to end up looking like the Toxic Avenger by the end and all because they done went and loved up the wrong girl.
Similar fright fests followed throughout the school years, some of which were designed to sell the downright rotten perils of getting high on drugs. The films, most of which were produced by the federal governments propaganda machine, were aimed at frightening the youth of America into thinking that so much as dabbling in and other feel-good substances would almost ensure atrocities to the DNA of the popular crowd.
And when it came to alcohol, rest assured the insanity wasnt any less ridiculous simply because they were teaching us about a legal substance. One thing was certain, Uncle Sam didnt want us drinking.
Side Note: Admittedly, those of you who fall into the Zima category get what you deserve.
Sorry dudes, drinking is a crapshoot at best.
Drinking Alcohol Kills Brain Cells What Does Science Say
The idea that alcohol kills brain cells is an old one. The early temperance writers made this claim. They also insisted that the alcohol in their blood could cause drunkards to catch fire and burn alive.1 This combustion argument against drinking was dropped long ago. However, many anti-alcohol writers continue to promote the idea that even moderate drinking of alcohol kills brain cells.
Many medical researchers have studied this question. The results show that moderate alcohol drinking is associated with better cognitive skills and memory. Thats in comparison to abstaining from alcohol.
So moderate drinking doesnt kill brain cells. To the contrary, it helps the brain function better into old age. Studies around the world involving many thousands of people report this finding.
Of course, years of alcohol abuse can cause serious neurological damage. Such abuse can harm message-carrying dendrites on neurons in the cerebellum. Thats a part of the brain involved in learning and physical coordination
In extreme cases, it can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. But even in such extreme cases, theres no evidence evidence that alcohol kills brain cells.
However, abstinence after chronic alcohol abuse enables brains to repair themselves, according to research involving rats.2
In short, your teacher was wrong!
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Brain Regeneration During Abstinence
If alcohol-induced changes in brain structure, physiology, and gene expression contribute to the loss of control over drinking, it follows that regaining control during abstinence could involve changes in brain structure, physiology, and gene expression that contribute to the return of control and recovery from addiction . Alcoholics recognize the cognitive inefficiency that occurs during heavy drinking and call it a wet brain. This is surprisingly accurate when thinking about alcoholics enlarged brain ventricles, which are spaces in the brain containing cerebral fluid. People in recovery have reported that their cognition improves with the duration of abstinence. Multiple well-controlled studies of alcoholics have found evidence that alcoholic sobriety results in improved brain function, metabolism, and volume during abstinence. Increased brain volume corresponds with decreased ventricular size . These studies are complicated by the lack of brain measures before abstinence, high rates of relapse, and variability among individuals. In large part, most studies indicate improvement of brain function during abstinence. The longer the abstinence, the greater the chances of maintaining a healthy recovery from addiction and return of executive functions .
You Can Develop Thiamine Deficiency And Malnutrition
Consuming alcohol occasionally shouldnt put you at any risk of vitamin deficiency or malnourishment. However, when you consume large alcohol quantities regularly, you can develop thiamine deficiency.
Since alcohol contains no vitamin or essential nutrients, heavy drinking can also lead to malnutrition, and this can cause a condition known as Wernickes Encephalopathy . WE is a form of dementia caused by the consumption of alcohol that is mostly irreversible. As thiamine deficiency causes a chemical imbalance in the brain, this also usually results in WE.
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Alcohol Stunts Brain Cell Growth
The good news is that alcohol doesnt kill existing brain cells. The bad news is that it can prevent new brain cells from forming.
Heavy drinking interferes with neurogenesis, the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain.
This process impacts our ability to learn and retain new information.
Is It True That Alcohol Kills Neurons
There are many prejudices that it provokes about our organism and mental level, but for sure the alcohol does not eliminate neurons.
This belief emerged from some political-social movements to prohibit alcohol as in the case of the United States with the Dry Law , or the result of some research like that of Harper and Krill in 1990, which stated that alcoholics had fewer neurons than nonalcoholics, leading to the belief that alcohol killed these cells.
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Can You Lose Iq From Drinking
Research indicates alcohol exposure over a significant period of time will lower IQ. A study of just under 50,000 Swedish military conscripts between 1969 and 1970 found that IQ was inversely correlated with heavy alcohol consumption.11 A study in neighboring Norway found similar results.9
Women who drink while pregnant put their children at higher risk of developing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder . Children born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome have IQ’s well below average.9
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.
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Recovery From Alcohol Abuse
Though recovery can be challenging, research indicates that a focus on sobriety and other healthy life choices can provide a framework for better brain health. The brain is remarkably adaptable and, with proper care and support, can begin to heal from chronic alcohol use in many cases.
When seeking a recovery partner, its important to select a treatment provider who understands how alcohol use disorder impacts the chemistry and makeup of the brain and provides treatment accordingly. Dont be afraid to ask providers directly what level of experience they have with the neuroscience of addiction and how they incorporate brain-focused care into their treatment plans.
At StoneRidge Centers, we understand the connection between alcohol addiction and the brain. This is why we begin our treatment for alcohol addiction with a focus on healing the brain through a combination of innovative, specialized treatment and evidence-based clinical therapy, all overseen by our triple-board-certified medical director.
Contact StoneRidge Centers today to find out how we can help you or a loved one heal the damage caused by alcohol abuse.
Effects Of Alcohol On The Developing Brain
Drinking is generally not advised for anyone below the age of 18, at any level. This is because, at this stage, the brain is still developing, and any hindrance to this development can cause permanent damage. In this context, alcohol would be that hindrance.
Considering that there is no empirical study on the amount of alcohol required to trigger this sort of behavior in the brain of developing children, it is advised to completely stay away from drinking.
The risk is particularly great for children aged under 15. 15 to 17-year-olds are still advised to delay the act of drinking for as long as possible.
- Impaired decision-making
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It Affects Your Brains Gamma
Alcohol can do a number on your brains receptors called GABA receptors, responsible for inducing sleep, leading to poor sleep quality. Furthermore, because alcohol can also cause dehydration, it puts the body through a period where it feels the effects of withdrawal at night. This can make it quite challenging to get a restful sleep.
Whats The Healthy Amount
Of course, some of us just like a drink or two when were chilling with friends or at social events, and others go so far to claim that moderate alcohol consumption is actually beneficial to health.
However, this claim is yet to be substantiated. And it might be a long shot seeing as alcohol consumption is strongly linked with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, brain damage and even mental illness16.
In todays society, there is a constant social pressure to just have a drink. Many people simply accept a drink in order to avoid coming across as boring or antisocial, although they dont actually want to. Many social environments revolve around drinking, with questions being asked if there isnt alcohol around, to the point where people even get called out for not drinking.
Everyone should be able to decide whether or not to drink, free of pressure it is important to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol use and misuse so that people are aware of the risks involved. More importantly, with this knowledge in hand, everyone can contribute by not pressuring others when they refuse just one more drink.
NOTEIf yourself or somebody you care about is affected by alcohol abuse, there is help available to get you through it. Nobody should feel ashamed or alone. If you feel like this could be an issue in your life, here are just several of many organizations that you can reach out to:
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What Is Brain Injury From Drug Use
Brain injury resulting from drug or alcohol use can range from minor damage to brain cells to severe physical damage such as in the case of brain hypoxia due to overdose.. Some of these consequences can be more serious and/or persistent, such as in the case of traumatic brain injury , stroke, and WernickeKorsakoff syndrome.1,2,3 Others can include potentially reversible changes such as mild brain atrophy and changes to white matter.4,5
Brain injury or other neurological complications can be a direct or indirect result of substance use. Brain hypoxia can result from an overdose of opioids, for example this is a result of opioids can significantly decrease the bodys respiratory drive. They can also occur due to poor health and nutrition, accidents, or increased risk-taking behaviors people engage in while theyre intoxicated or because they have a substance use disorder.3,6
Certain substances may have neurotoxic effects at high doses or with chronic exposure. These are substances that may cause damage or injury to brain cells. Taking these substances, especially over longer periods of time or at certain times in the human aging process, could increase your risk of suffering from substance-related brain changes or neurological issues. For example, high-dose or chronic amphetamine use may accelerate and enhance a persons age-related decline in dopaminergic function.1