Does Alcohol Cause Brain Damage: 101 Guide

For years, alcoholic drinks have enjoyed having fun and feeling spirited. But lesser known are the lethal effects it has on the body of the individual who consumes it. You might have heard people asking does alcohol cause brain damage of any sort, but why is that?

As soon as alcohol enters the bloodstream, it manipulates the brain’s functioning. Since the brain is the center point of the body’s functioning, being an ‘alcoholic’ is completely unfavourable for the body and its health.

This article discusses the various short-term and long-term effects on an individual’s health due to excessive alcohol consumption.1

It provides complete knowledge of how alcohol abuse is linked to the brain and its damage. In the end, are some ways helpful in getting rid of alcohol?

1. Alcohol Effects

1.1. Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

does alcohol cause brain damage
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Alcohol begins to alter brain function as soon as it enters the body. It is responsible for the reduction of motor control, changes in energy levels, and loss of inhibition.2

Alcohol affects the concentration levels of the individual who consumes alcohol. It is also the reason behind memory problems and poor sleep patterns.

The person’s brain gets adversely affected, affecting his ability to perform basic life functions. A decrease in organizational skills and delayed reflexes is also an outcome of drinking alcohol.

Alcohol overdose might also lead to vomiting, fainting, seizures, mental confusion, high blood pressure, and a slower heart rate. It also results in blackouts, dizziness, cravings, and aggression.

While only a few drinks might not affect the body, consuming too much alcohol is a practice that needs to be discouraged.

1.2. Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

Consuming alcohol negatively affects the body. Heavy drinking eventually leads to health risks.

The liver is responsible for the purification of blood. Chronic alcohol use hampers liver functioning. Excessive alcohol use makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients.

This leads to thiamine deficiency3 in the body. As a result, the person is at an increased risk of liver disease.

Binge drinking is linked to increased cancer risk, heart disease, brain shrinkage, mental health problems, poor nutrition, and slurred speech.

Poor functioning of the central nervous system is also a result of alcohol consumption.4

People tend to get a lot of energy from alcohol. As a result, they stop eating a balanced diet and become prone to malnutrition. Alcohol intake also increases the chances of undertaking substance abuse.

Consuming alcohol regularly leads to alcohol addiction, and the person becomes dependent on alcohol.

2. How Much Alcohol Consumption Is Okay for the Body?

pexels tembela bohle 1089930
Photo by Tembela Bohle on Pexels

Alcohol consumption should certainly be avoided. However, according to the latest research, if a person drinks 2-3 drinks daily, that is termed binge drinking.

Anything less than 2-3 drinks ‘occasionally‘ and moderate alcohol consumption is acceptable.

Consuming more than 8 drinks in a week is termed alcohol overdose. All these statistics are valid for people over 21 and under 65.

The intake of alcohol below the age of 21 leads to permanent brain damage and cognitive impairment since the brain is still under development when the person is young.

Compared to the adult brain, the young brain is more prone to getting addicted to alcohol.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, 85.6 percent of people aged 18 and above reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetime.

According to another report, 22.2 percent of the people said that they engaged in binge drinking in the past year.

3. Risks Associated with Alcohol Consumption

3.1. Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are defined as the regular practice of excessive alcohol consumption, which significantly damages the body and the surroundings. Examples could be consuming alcohol while driving and creating fatal situations.

Alcoholism is the inability to stop drinking due to an emotional and physical dependence on alcohol. It is termed a chronic disease with the uncontrollable urge to drink alcohol.

People diagnosed with alcoholism tend to commence their day with a drink, feel guilty about their habit, and have the desire to cut it down but cannot.

Therapy and counselling are instrumental in controlling the urge to drink before it leads to alcohol-related brain damage.

3.2. Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning or alcohol intoxication occurs when a person drinks too much alcohol in a short time. The person becomes unconscious and is unable to breathe properly. The skin turns pale or blue due to hypothermia (low body temperature).

It results from the interference of alcohol in the normal functioning of the brain and body. It causes puking. Convulsions are also a result of alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol takes about 25 hours to escape your body completely. If alcohol is consumed empty-stomached, it can lead to dehydration and fainting.

Long-term alcohol poisoning can severely damage the heart, liver, brain, and pancreas. It also increases blood sugar levels, resulting in strokes and heart attacks.

If a person is in a state of alcohol poisoning, make sure you do not leave him/her alone. Help them take a shower and lemon water. You must take medical assistance if the situation goes out of control.

Alcohol-related dementia 5is one of the mental disorders that result from alcohol use. It is a type of alcohol-related brain damage.

The symptoms associated with it include difficulty navigating, bad decision-making, unexplained changes in personality, inability to solve complex problems, constant perplexion, and confusion with place or time.

It also results in difficulty in understanding speech. If untreated, it might take away the person’s ability to speak.

Medical help, if taken on time, can help in the further worsening of this condition.

3.4. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.

Fetal alcohol syndrome6 is the condition in which a fetus is exposed to alcohol. It occurs when the pregnant mother is involved in drinking or substance abuse.

The alcohol passes to the child through the placenta, just like other important nutrients are passed. In a baby’s body, alcohol is broken down slowly compared to an adult’s. This results in high alcohol levels in the baby’s body for a prolonged period.

Due to the effects of alcohol on the fetus’s brain, the child born is unhealthy. They are often born with low body weight, poor coordination, hyperactivity, speech delays, difficulty starting to walk, poor memory, and difficulty with attention. The life expectancy of the newborn is also less due to this.

The child is also at risk of brain damage because parts of the brain responsible for proper development get affected. His mental health is at risk of negatively affecting his growing years.

Hence, it is advised that a pregnant woman must not consume alcohol.

3.5. Head Injuries

If an individual consumes alcohol for a prolonged period, they are at a higher risk of head injuries. They are prone to falling and hitting their head under the effects of alcohol.

They might indulge in fights and hurt themselves. Severe head injuries cause serious damage to the brain. They might also result in permanent brain damage.

4. What are the Effects of Alcohol on Brain Cells?

The effects of alcohol on brain cells a7re serious and often lethal. Too much alcohol use leads to a reduction in the size of neurons. It affects brain health and makes it difficult for the brain to control memory, balance, and speech.

Drinking for a long period kills brain cells. Though the brain cells can regenerate themselves, heavy drinking makes it hard for the brain to produce new brain cells in time.

All this paves the way for a brain disorder. Chronic alcohol use doubles the risk of brain shrinkage.

Does alcohol kill brain cells? No, it is a false belief that alcohol kills them. According to neurologists across the globe, it is true that alcohol abuse is responsible for altering the size of the cells and slowing down the process of their production, but it does not kill them.

4.1. What is a Wet Brain?

Wet Brain Syndrome - 10 Facts

Wet brain is a type of alcohol use disorder due to reported drinking. It is the start of alcohol-related brain damage. It is scientifically termed Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. It is caused primarily due to thiamine deficiency (Vitamin B1),8 which results from heavy alcohol use.

Thiamin is found in cereals, beef, eggs, potatoes, and cauliflower. Alcohol misuse decreases the capacity of the body tissues to absorb thiamine from food items. This eventually leads to alcohol use disorder.

The symptoms that might indicate this fetal alcohol syndrome include twitching, loss of balance, drooping eyelids, drop in the body temperature, weakness, and uncontrollable eye movements.

Other symptoms include hallucinations, the creation of false memories, and increased talkativeness. This disorder, in most cases, cannot be cured.

However, timely detection and treatment can help slow down and eventually halt the process.

5. How Does Alcohol Affect the Central Nervous System?

How Alcohol Affects Your Developing Central Nervous System

Heavy drinking and binge drinking result in permanent damage to the cerebellum and hence to the central nervous system. This, as a result, causes blurred vision, slurred speech, and difficulty in walking.

The reaction time against a stimulus increases. The ability of the individual to memorize things decreases due to heavy drinking.

When too much alcohol is consumed, it increases the neurotransmitter number in the body, leading to the slow down of neuron-to-neuron communication. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system (CNS).

It suppresses the heart rate and breathing rate. Alcohol produces hormones that control sedation and calmness, i.e., gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Alcohol results in the contraction of tissues of the brain. It leads to excessive pain or complete numbness in some body parts.

6. Does Alcohol Cause Brain Damage?

Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) occurs when individuals drink alcohol more than the recommended quantity. People who acquire alcohol-related brain damage are usually between 40 and 50 years old.

If an individual consumes alcohol regularly, his brain function is affected. He becomes prone to brain damage.

It starts with mild cognitive impairment but takes life-taking turns if the individual continues heavy drinking. It makes the completion of daily tasks difficult.

This brain damage is caused due to an amalgam of the following consequences of alcohol on the brain:

6.1. Effect on Nerve Cells

Prolonged drinking history causes the brain of the drinker to shrink. It reduces the number of properly functioning brain cells.

Thus, the number of cells carrying messages to the brain decreases, and the brain cannot carry out basic tasks.

6.2. Effect on Blood Vessels

Consuming too much alcohol increases the risk of a stroke. Alcohol use leads to higher blood pressure and causes severe damage to the blood vessels. An adequate amount of oxygen does not reach the brain due to damaged blood vessels.

6.3. Damage to the Cerebral Cortex

Excessive alcohol interferes with the working of the cerebral cortex. It is the outermost part of the brain responsible for mental capabilities. It incorporates about 14 to 16 billion neurons.

If it gets damaged due to alcohol, thinking and judgment capacities get affected. One becomes more confident and talkative.

6.4. Effect on Mental Health

People tend to feel more confident, less anxious. and relaxed immediately after drinking. But this is indeed a short-term pleasure that wears away soon.

After that, chemicals are released into your brain that channel negative feelings of anger, stress, anxiety, and depression. It results in anti-social behaviour.

The possibility of mood swings increases with thoughts of guilt and worthlessness. Excessive booze can make one react in ways that he/she would not if they were sober.

Inappropriate behaviour due to loss of sense of judgment is also a result of alcohol abuse.

Over time, alcohol consumption leads to thoughts of loneliness which might even trigger suicidal thoughts in a person. It is, therefore, classified as a depressant drug that worsens negative thoughts and actions accordingly.

6.5. Hepatic Encephalopathy

Caused due to severe and chronic liver disease, hepatic encephalopathy is a temporary disorder of the neurological system. A damaged liver is unable to filter blood. Due to this, impure blood flows into the bloodstream.

The excessive toxins in the bloodstream cause hepatic encephalopathy, with extreme lethargy, confusion, and strange personality changes, and if untreated, it shifts the person into a coma.

7. How to Get Rid of Alcohol Addiction?

How to treat Alcohol Addiction? - Doctor Explains

Overcoming alcohol addiction 9is a difficult task. It often seems impossible to do so. No matter how tough the process is, it is certainly the right thing to do for a healthy body and mind.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, founded in 1970 under the National Institutes of Health in the USA, performs studies and research on preventing excessive alcohol use by individuals.

It also aids in the addiction treatment of addicts. There are several organizations set up that assist people with alcohol withdrawal. They also provide medical assistance in case of severe withdrawal symptoms.

One of the most effective methods of alcohol withdrawal is inpatient rehab. It requires you to stay at the rehabilitation center overnight or maybe for a greater number of days, according to your progress in alcohol withdrawal. Starting the treatment early can help improve brain function.

Alcohol withdrawal can be achieved in two ways:

  • Reducing alcohol intake over time
  • Completely cutting off alcohol consumption

Both these processes involve certain withdrawal symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, which include –

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Sweating
  • Excessive headache
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • High blood pressure, and
  • Sleeplessness

In many cases, alcohol withdrawal needs medical treatment. Government and private support groups, therapy centers, and counselling centers also play a crucial role in helping people do away with their habit of drinking.

Thanks to the advancements in the medical field, there is now a cure available to treat alcohol-related brain damage if it is diagnosed early.

One must not shy away from seeking medical treatment to quit alcohol abuse and alcoholism. It is never too late to quit the bad habit and stop drinking for a better quality of life.

8. Conclusion

This article gives you enough reasons to stop drinking and reduce the risk of developing severe alcohol-related diseases like cancer of the liver, mouth, bowel, and breast, along with reducing the risk of being prone to other substance abuse like drugs.

Alcohol takes a toll on the person’s physical appearance, for it causes damage to the skin, causes weight gain, makes you appear older, and results in the weakening of hair.

It negatively affects your relationship with others. Quitting alcohol enhances the quality of life as well as life expectancy.

One must ensure that one stays away from the habit of drinking to ensure a safe and happy life.

Alarming Alcoholism Statistics You Need to Know
Icy Health
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  2. Naylor, David E., Hantao Liu, and Claude G. Wasterlain. “Trafficking of GABAA receptors, loss of inhibition, and a mechanism for pharmacoresistance in status epilepticus.” Journal of Neuroscience 25.34 (2005): 7724-7733. ↩︎
  3. Martin, Peter R., Charles K. Singleton, and Susanne Hiller-Sturmhöfel. “The role of thiamine deficiency in alcoholic brain disease.” Alcohol research & health 27.2 (2003): 134. ↩︎
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  6. Streissguth, Ann Pytkowicz, et al. “Fetal alcohol syndrome in adolescents and adults.” Jama 265.15 (1991): 1961-1967. ↩︎
  7. Oscar-Berman, Marlene, et al. “Impairments of brain and behavior: the neurological effects of alcohol.” Alcohol health and research world 21.1 (1997): 65. ↩︎
  8. Gibson, Gary E., et al. “Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and dementia.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1367.1 (2016): 21-30. ↩︎
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