How Alcohol Affects Your Brain
Can a big night out really kill brain cells? We take a look at the immediate, next day and long term effects of alcohol on the brain.
12 December 20174 min read
You may be relieved to find out alcohol doesnât necessarily kill brain cells. It can, however, have a damaging effect on your brain.
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
Is There Any Way To Reverse The Effects
Many of the effects of heavy alcohol use are reversible, or can at least be significantly improved. The first step is to stop drinking. While many binge alcohol users arent alcoholics, they need to stop doing the thing thats causing the damage. Professionals such as internists, neurologists, addiction specialists, dietitians, psychiatrists, cardiologists, physical therapists and others can all help the recovery process.Its important to know the human body can handle moderate levels of alcohol without any problems. We see the problems arise with heavy use. According to the US Dietary Guidelines, people should limit drinking to one serving of alcohol per day for women and up to two servings per day for men.Brad Lander is a clinical psychologist and addiction medicine specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
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Long Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain
Many long-term effects of alcohol use can cause permanent damage to the brain, as well as to various organs. With intervention, brain damage may be reversible. Alcohols long-term brain impacts include:
- Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and can damage brain cells. Some of the most dangerous symptoms may include hallucinations and seizures. About 5 percent of those going through withdrawal will experience delirium tremens , the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal.
- Damage to neurotransmitters slows communication between different areas of the brain and reduces energy levels.
- Brain shrinkage is caused by a loss of gray matter, which contains cell bodies, and white matter, which controls cell pathways. A 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal is one of many that has identified a correlation between high alcohol consumption and brain shrinkage.
- Cognitive impairment may affect verbalization, mental processing, memory, learning, concentration, and impulse control. Studies find areas of the brain related to problem solving and impulse control have the highest risk for damage from alcohol. Impairment in this area of the brain may result in alcohol-related dementia.
Alcohol And The Teenage Brain
From the age of 12 your brain starts to undergo some radical changes. These continue until you are in your mid 20s.
During this time, the brain is developing more sophisticated abilities and skills.
These changes allow you to act in a more sophisticated way.
They give you the ability to:
- problem solve
- make sense of complex information
- make plans for your future
Teenagers should not drink alcohol during this time. This is because the brain is under construction and being re-coded. Drinking can disrupt this process.
Alcohol use affects many parts of the brain, including:
The teenage brain is also more likely to become addicted to alcohol than the adult brain. Teenagers who drink before the age of 15 are more likely to misuse alcohol in later life.
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Understanding The Habit Loop
Brains are designed to help you go towards pleasure and try to avert pain whenever possible. A lot of this happens in the limbic system of the brain, which is the home of our reward system. When you begin turning to alcohol as a way to receive pleasure and avoid pain, you develop an addiction. The following is how the brain starts to rewire itself, which is known as the habit loop:
Does Drinking Alcohol Kill Brain Cells
Watch someone after theyve had a few drinks, and youll find clear evidence that alcohol does something to their brain. They stumble, slur their words, lose control of their emotions, and forget things.
Some people have tried to explain this behavior as the aftermath of cell death caused by alcohol. Often, its packaged as a neat factoid like Three beers kill 10,000 brain cells.
But is this true? No. But alcohol does damage some of your 86 billion brain cells, or neurons, which send electrical and chemical messages within the brain and between it and other parts of the body.
Ethyl alcohol can kill cells and microorganisms. Thats what makes it an effective antiseptic. Fortunately, when you drink alcoholic beverages, your body tries not to let all of that ethanol roam around unchecked. Enzymes in your liver convert it first info acetaldehyde and then into acetate, which is broken down into water and carbon dioxide and eliminated by your body.
The liver can only work so fast, though, processing about 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits per hour. If youre knocking drinks back fast enough that your liver cant keep up, the excess alcohol hangs out in the blood and travels through the body until it can be processed.
For moderate drinkers, a number of studies from the last 15 years suggest that, far from killing brain cells, a little tipple is actually associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
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Advantages Of Using Animal Models To Study Alcoholic Neurodegeneration
Animal models can be used to clearly test hypotheses about disease factors found in humans. Humans vary in size, weight, age, genetics, diet, and behaviors, including alcohol and tobacco consumption as well as vitamin and aspirin use, exercise, and multiple environmental factors. All of these factors influence health in complex ways that are difficult to untangle when studying people. High-risk alcohol-drinking patterns, including binge drinking and heavy drinking , increase health risks including risk for alcoholism. Alcoholism is a medically defined complex disease with multiple symptoms, the most prominent of which are impulsive and compulsive use of alcohol despite knowing it interferes with mental, physical, and social well-being. Common markers of alcoholism include tolerance to alcohol and withdrawal from alcohol . Animal studies of binge and heavy drinking, alcohol tolerance and physical dependence, and the biological effects of alcohol offer the advantage of closely controlling factors that cannot be controlled in human studies. These studies allow researchers to better understand the effects of alcohol on physical and mental health.
Ways To Control Your Alcohol Intake
Does alcohol kill brain cells? No, it does not. Does this mean you should do nothing to control your alcohol intake? No, this is not the right thing to do. Excessive drinking can cause several health problems, even if it does not directly kill your brain cells. It is important to drink in moderation, but it is never easy to cut back on your drinking if you have been drinking heavily for quite some time. The following tips will help you cut back on drinking.
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Alcohol And Brain Damage
While actual neural death might not be caused by alcohol, alcohol abuse can and does lead to brain damage. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to a deficiency in an important B-vitamin called thiamine. This deficiency can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a serious neurological disorder linked to alcohol use that does result in the loss of neurons in the brain. The syndrome is characterized by memory problems, amnesia, and lack of muscle coordination. In this case, it is important to note that the loss of neurons is caused by the thiamine deficiency, not by the actual alcohol use.
Obviously, this does not mean that people should ignore the potential dangers of alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that a number of factors can influence exactly how alcohol impacts the brain, including how much and how often a person drinks, how long the individual has been drinking, prenatal exposure to alcohol, and the overall state of a person’s health.
Something else to consider: While alcohol might not actually “kill” brain cells, research does suggest that high levels of alcohol can interfere with neurogenesis or the formation of new brain cells. Until fairly recently, many experts believed that adults were not able to grow new neurons in the brain. That myth has since been dispelled, and brain experts now recognize that specific regions of the brain continue to form new cells even well into old age.
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.
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What Happens To Your Brain When You Quit Drinking
As weve noted above, an alcohol use disorder fundamentally changes the way certain key areas of the brain function. As the brain and body become more habituated to the presence of alcohol in the body, it becomes more difficult for a chronic drinker to quit drinking.
When they do decide to stop drinking, they will experience a condition known as withdrawal, as the brain resets back to its baseline functioning in the absence of alcohol. This means that the brain is no longer releasing the same levels of dopamine and other neurotransmitter chemicals that it was during chronic alcohol use. At the same time, the brain begins to restart the flow of other chemicals that were paused by alcohol.
For example, during withdrawal, the brain restarts the production of neurotransmitter chemicals that cause us feelings of stress and anxiety. While alcohol dampens the production of these neurotransmitters, they are present and active when sober. The release of these chemicals, in addition to other physical and chemical changes in the absence of alcohol, can lead an individual going through withdrawal to become more angry, depressed, frustrated, or tired than previously.
In addition to its effects on the brain, alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. Withdrawal often takes place within 48 hours of an individuals last drink and can lead to flu-like symptoms, including lack of energy, increased sweating, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and feelings of stress and anxiety.
Alcohol Poisoning & Overdose
According to the CDC, an average of 6 people die every day in the U.S. from alcohol poisoning. Many of those deaths are as a result of binge drinking and are not from long-term alcohol use. Just one instance of excessive alcohol intake can result in an overdose, which may lead to brain damage or death.
Binge drinking means to consume a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time and is one of the most common causes of alcohol poisoning. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states binge drinking occurs when an individuals blood alcohol content is at .08 or higher, which is the threshold for legal intoxication in many states.
An overdose happens when more alcohol is consumed than the body can process, causing a toxic build-up. The extreme depressant effect of this much alcohol can cause irregular heartbeat, dangerously low body temperature, and slowed or stopped breathing.
The Mayo Clinic website lists possible indications of alcohol poisoning including confusion, vomiting, seizures, extremely slow breathing , irregular breathing , bluish or pale skin, hypothermia, and unconsciousness. An alcohol overdose is a medical emergency. If suspected, summon help immediately.
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Blocking The Mechanisms Of Neurodegeneration
Evidence supporting the role of proinflammatory genes and oxidative stress in alcoholic brain damage is found by studying drugs that block neurodegeneration. Butylated hydroxytoluene is an antioxidant that uniquely blocks alcohol-induced increases in DNA binding of NF-B, proinflammatory gene induction, and alcohol-induced decreased DNA binding of CREB . BHT given to rats before and during the BIBD model prevented increased brain NF-BDNA binding, proinflammatory gene induction, the loss of neurogenesis, and neurodegeneration . Similarly, increasing transcription of pCREB, the active form of CREB, through the use of drugs can block neuroinflammation and alcohol-induced brain neuronal death .
Some dietary antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory agents may be protective against alcohol-induced brain damage. Thus, genetic and environmental alterations in alcohol-induced proinflammatory gene induction can regulate alcohol-induced inhibition of neurogenesis and neurodegeneration.
Tips For Cutting Back On Alcohol
Alcohol products are heavily promoted yet alcohol companies often downplay the harm they can cause to our health. To cut through the spin, here are some tips from VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio on what we can do to reduce the harm from alcohol:
- Learn to reward yourself or unwind without alcohol you can get active, revisit old hobbies or try a new one, get a massage, call a friend or relax with a book.
- Mix up your routine go for a walk around the block instead of having a wine after work or replace your alcoholic beverage with a peppermint tea or soda water.
- Focus on what youll gain by cutting back you might be motivated by saving money, boosting your memory and concentration, sleeping better and having more energy and patience to do things you enjoy.
- The Daybreak app from Hello Sunday Morning also helps it provides confidential health advice and a supportive community to help people reduce their drinking and protect their health.
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Does Marijuana Kill Brain Cells
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Stage : Alcohol Dependence
In Stage 4, the individual has become dependent on alcohol. He or she might not feel the same effects with their usual amount of alcohol, requiring increased drinks to feel buzzed. As a result, they may feel withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors, sweating, racing heart, irritability, or insomnia, as the alcohol wears off.
The person will drink again in order to alleviate the symptoms. At this stage, the individual typically understands that drinking is causing problems but he or she is unable to control his or her drinking.
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Lets Overcome A Drinking Problem Together
If you are wondering does alcohol kill brain cells, the answer is no. However, alcohol abuse can cause severe cognitive impairments and organ damage. If you or a loved one is battling a drinking problem or alcoholism, Kemah Palms, a premier Houston substance abuse treatment provider, is here to help. Call us today today to learn more about our programs and your treatment options.
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The prefessionals at Kemah Palms Recovery® – Alcohol and Addition Treatment Center are available 24/7 to help you or your loved one. Contact us today to begin your recovery at our premier addiction treatment center.
Does Alcohol Kills Brain Cells
Brain cells make up the functional tissue of the brain. The two main types of cells in the brain are neurons, or nerve cells, and glial cells, which are also called neuroglia.
Brain cells are responsible for sending and receiving electrical and chemical signals. Theyre the building blocks of the brain, allowing us to perform involuntary and voluntary actions. They allow us to think, move, speak, learn, breathe, and understand the world around us.
Brain damage and brain injury can cause the destruction or degeneration of brain cells, which can affect multiple functions. The most common causes of brain cell loss and damage include prolonged shortage of oxygen , poisoning, infection, neurological problems, and brain damage.
But what about alcohol – does alcohol kill brain cells? No, it doesnt. Research confirms that this is a myth. Instead, alcohol damages the dendrites located in the cerebellum or region of the brain that plays a role in coordination and movement. Dendrites are where neurons receive input from other cells. A dendrite is also referred to as a tree branch because of its root-like appearance.
s important to note that the cerebellum contains over half of the total number of neurons in the brain. Any damage, such as damage caused by excessive drinking, can harm dendrites, impact neural communication, and inhibit motor movement and other functions.
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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.