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.
Risk Factors For Alcohol
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that there are several factors that determine how alcohol affects the brain, including:
- the persons general health
- the amount of alcohol consumed
- the frequency of alcohol exposure
- how long a person has participated in alcohol use
- when the person first started drinking
- family history of alcoholism
- the persons gender, age, and genetic background
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
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Increased Risk Of Head Injuries
If a person regularly drinks too much alcohol, they also have a higher risk of repeated head injuries. While under the effects of alcohol they may fall and hit their head, or receive blows to the head in fights or as victims of violence. Both can cause lasting damage to the brain.
A person with ARBD may experience all of these types of damage. The different types of damage are linked to different types of ARBD. For example, WernickeKorsakoff syndrome is most closely linked with low levels of thiamine .
How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain
Moderate alcohol consumption is generally unharmful, but on the flip side, regular consumption of the substance in quantities higher than the recommended limit can negatively impact.
These effects may be short or long-term, depending on various factors such as level of alcoholism and frequency at which the user has been drinking the substance. So, how does alcohol affect the brain?
Some Possible Short-Term Effects Include:
- Slurred speech
- Cardiovascular health issues
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The Belief That Alcohol Kills Brain Cells Has Been Floating Around For Some Time
Its understandable why people would look into this, considering that long-term alcohol abuse can lead to serious physical and cognitive impairment. Alcohol exposure during critical moments of physical development, such as during pregnancy, can also have a lasting, harmful effect. But does alcohol really kill brain cells?
Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells
How does alcohol affect the brain cells? Ethanol belongs to a class of substances called central nervous system depressants, so named because the substance slows down the normal speed of neurotransmitter activity. On the same note, drinking also alters the production of specific neurotransmitters.
In an area known as the pleasure center, the substances presence leads to a transmitters rising output called dopamine. Over time, a person who drinks in excessive amounts can grow accustomed to this spike in dopamine levels. It is this fundamental change that sets the stage for alcoholism.
Studies have also shown that people who drink alcohol very regularly generally have a smaller brain size than people who do not or who only drink moderately.
The studies that are most related to the direct impact of drinking on dead brain cells were conducted on animals. The discovery from these studies was the neurodegeneration of these cells in multiple brain regions. One such study was conducted on rats to understand better the concept of neuroadaptation upon chronic alcohol use.
The symptoms shown by these animals following the tests were similar to the once known to be shown by human subjects suffering from alcohol-induced brain damage. Hence, humans submission would show similar neurodegeneration with long-term alcoholism is a realistic place to land.
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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!
How Long Does It Take Your Brain To Heal From Alcohol
The level of alcohol-related brain damage depends on the severity of alcohol use, the age at which it began, and how long it continued.
It takes months for the brain to generate new cells and put them in place.
The reversal of brain volume loss has been seen as soon as a month after the drinking stopped, and some mental faculties begin to improve about 6 months afterward. However, this process is uneven and full recovery is unlikely.
One study showed no regrowth at all of the prefrontal lobes after 6 months.13
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Alcohol And The Older Brain
As we get older, the bodys ability to process and clear alcohol from your body changes. For example, there is a reduction in your muscle mass as you get older. There is also less water stored in the body. This means that alcohol becomes more concentrated in our system.
As we age, we are also more likely to:
- experience physical health problems
- take medication
- be at greater risk for other disorders of the brain, for example, dementia
Because of this, older people tolerate alcohol less well than younger people. They are more sensitive to the negative effects of alcohol. This means they experience more harms from alcohol use than other adults.
Physical problems can happen at lower levels of drinking in older people.
It can lead to an increased risk or likelihood of making some health problems worse.
Recap: How Alcohol Affects The Brain And Behavior
Excessive drinking clearly harms normal brain function. The short-term effects include intoxication and alcohol poisoning. The long-term effects showing how drinking affects the brain and behavior include a range of damaging changes in physical, mental, and behavioral well-being.
Some of the consequences of chronic heavy drinking are direct. However, the list of problems also includes hepatic encephalopathy, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and other indirect outcomes. Teenagers who drink have unique brain-related risks, including heightened chances of developing alcoholism. Improvement is possible for people affected by drinking-related brain damage. However, as a rule, positive outcomes only come with abstinence from drinking.
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The Hippocampus Is Worth Protecting
Its the region of the brain responsible for memory. Its what we use to remember facts and events and how to drive home from grandmas.
Those scary blackout episodes? Thats alcohol doings its thing on your hippocampus.
The bad new is, the more you drink, the more your hippocampus shrinks. When that happens, your memory woes get worse.
Does Alcohol Really Kill Brain Cells
Perhaps youve made the joke at one point or another after an evening of ridiculous antics and drinking. It goes something like this, I killed my last two brain cells last night!
And while sometimes we do things when we drink that makes us feel like an absolute moron, is it actually true?
Does alcohol kill brain cells?
We know that alcohol has a wide-ranging impact on our brain, but most people misunderstand what it actually does.
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Does Drinking Alcohol Actually Kill Brain Cells
Drinking too much alcohol can damage your vital organs as mentioned above. It can also damage neurons in your brain, but it doesnt result in killing the brain cells.
In 1993, science finally concluded that alcohol didnt kill brain cells. In the study, researchers compared the brain cells of alcoholics with teetotalers and found that there wasnt any noteworthy difference between them.
After reading this many of you might feel relieved. Isnt It?
But, let me tell you that alcohol may not kill your brain cells, it certainly does kill people. To be precise, nearly 2.5 million people die every year due to the effects of alcohol.
Brain Fact: Moderate Alcohol Use Doesnt Kill Brain Cells And While Rampant Alcohol Use Can Damage The Brain Its Not Due To Cell Death
Does alcohol kill brain cells? Youve probably heard this myth, but its not really true. Moderate alcohol intake doesnt kill brain cells, or even damage them. Thats because the amount of alcohol needed to kill brain cells would also kill the person drinking it!
That doesnt mean that alcohol cant damage the brain, though. Alcoholics can experience brain damage related to drinking, but its not because alcohol kills brain cells. There are a few things that can happen when people drink a lot of alcohol over a long period of time. While it cant kill brain cells, it can damage the dendrites, which are the branch-like ends of the brain cells. Dendrites are key for passing messages from one neuron to another, so a degradation of the dendrites can cause cognitive problems. Recent research shows that dendrite damage can be reversed with certain kinds of therapy and training.
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Q& a: Does Drinking Alcohol Kill Brain Cells
Q. Does drinking alcohol kill brain cells?
A. Alcohol is a neurotoxin that can disrupt communications of the brain. It also affects functions of brain cells directly and indirectly through different organ dysfunction from alcohol usage and vitamin deficiency. Depending on the area of the brain affected, people can have different symptoms. Abusing alcohol can lead to seizure, stroke and dementia, to name a few conditions. Additionally, alcohol is toxic to a developing brain during pregnancy and can cause birth defects, including developmental disorders with lifelong impact.
There has been talk about alcohol being good for the brain and heart. People like to say whats good for the heart is good for the brain. Recent findings now question alcohol’s benefit for the heart in terms of coronary heart disease. Theres a chemical found in red grapes called resveratrol that might be helpful to people with Alzheimers disease. This chemical is currently undergoing clinical trials, but more studies are needed at this time.
Theres no known level of safe drinking. Impact of alcohol consumption depends on the age, gender, medical issues, medications, genetics, personal situations, etc. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse on Alcoholism and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have very good information regarding alcohol consumption.
If you’re experiencing problems with alcohol, speak with your health care provider or a licensed counselor.
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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 .
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Alcohol And Nutritional Deficiencies
Nutritional deficiencies in the context of chronic alcoholism is common and well described. When alcohol use becomes consistent, every day throughout the day, loss of appetite and a reliance on alcohol as an energy source can lead to a decline in alternative sources of calories, even to the point where alcohol constitutes the vast majority of daily caloric intake. Vitamin deficiencies can result due to both a lack of intake and alcohols ability to alter the function of those vitamins that remain. The most commonly seen vitamin deficiencies in alcoholism include vitamin B12 vitamin B1 and vitamin B9 .
How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain In The Long Term
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:
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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Alcoholic Neurodegeneration: Human And Animal Research Findings
Human studies using brain imaging or examining brains after death have found that alcoholics have smaller brains, particularly frontal cortical regions and white-matter brain regions that represent the wiring connecting the brain. In addition, alcoholics have larger fluid-filled areas of the brain and smaller overall brain matter. Functional deficits in alcoholics can relate to brain regional size deficits . Animal studies indicate that alcohol can cause brain damage during intoxication .2). Further, alcohol-induced neurodegeneration in animals causes behavioral changes consistent with dysfunctional behavior found in human alcoholics . These studies suggest that alcoholic neurodegeneration could contribute to alcoholism.
SOURCE: Adapted from .
Effects Of Drinking On The Cerebellum
The cerebellums primary responsibility is the coordination of muscle movement. Damage in this area can lead to loss of body control and changes in normal emotional control and memory function.
Some of the More Common Resultant Effects of Damage Caused by Drinking to the Functions of the Cerebellum Include:
- Alterations in hand movements
- Uncontrolled eye movements
It is important to note that even when drinking is stopped, the cerebellar damage caused by the act can persist. There are chances that withdrawal can trigger several mitochondrial and neuronal damage to the cerebellum.
Do Brain Cells Regenerate After Drinking
Research has shown that the brain damage caused by alcohol can be at least partially reversed. According to MRI studies, the brain does recover to some extent after a significant period of abstinence .2
Some long-term effects of alcohol on the brain include:
Long term alcohol use causes a persistent form of memory impairment, which affects short-term or “working memory.” Short-term memories therefore never get stored as new long term memories.
MRI studies allow scientists to see and measure the brain. These studies show that alcohol use causes parts of the brain to shrink or become less dense. This is called atrophy. Certain parts of the brain appear to be especially vulnerable.
The frontal lobes are important for voluntary movement, language, and higher-level thinking. One study showed shrinkage of 11% in this area in heavy drinkers.15
Shrinkage of the cerebellum, which controls balance and movement, can happen in long-term drinkers. This is also true of the corpus callosum, an area that links the right and left sides of the brain, allowing communication between them.2
Another vulnerable area is the hippocampus, which is vital for learning and memory. Atrophy of this area is also strongly linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.1
Neurogenesis means the creation of new brain cells. It was once thought that the body was unable to create new brain cells, but it is now known that new brain cells can be generated.
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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