5 Scary Ways Alcohol Damages the Brain

5 Scary Ways Alcohol Damages the Brain

We’ve all heard the claims that alcohol is good for your health. The media is quick to cite studies saying that a glass of wine a day reduces the risk of heart attack and that drinking two glasses of wine or beer a day has been linked to a longer life. Sounds good, but what does alcohol actually do to the brain?

When it comes to that 3-pound supercomputer in your head, the news isn’t so rosy. Brain imaging studies and other research show that alcohol can damage the brain in ways that might make you think twice the next time you’re ordering at the bar.

1. Shrinks brain volume

People who drink just 1-7 drinks per week have smaller brains than nondrinkers, according to a 2008 study at Johns Hopkins that appeared in Archives of Neurology. This same research found that people have 2 or more drinks per day have even more brain shrinkage. Research on adolescents and alcohol consumption showed that those who became heavy drinkers between the ages of 12-17 compared to those who did not drink alcohol started out with less brain volume and lost even more brain volume over time. When it comes to the brain, size matters!

2. Lowers blood flow to the brain

The brain scans of heavy drinkers show reduced overall blood flow to the brain. The brain uses 20% of the blood flow in your body and it is critical for healthy brain function. When levels are low it can lead to a laundry list of problems—brain fog, poor decision-making, trouble concentrating, impulsivity, and more. It’s especially important to know that low blood flow in the brain is the #1 predictor of future memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease.

SPECT Scan of heavy alcohol abuse.

3. Causes atrophy of the hippocampus

Drinking 1-2 glasses of wine a day, which is considered “moderate” drinking, leads to atrophy in the hippocampus, according to a 30-year study of 550 women and men that was published in BMJ. The hippocampus is a critical brain region for learning and memory.

4. Reduces the number of new brain cells

Excessive alcohol consumption lowers the generation of new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, according to animal research presented at Neuroscience in 2009. In the study, monkeys that consumed alcohol experienced a 58% decline in the number of new brain cells formed and a 63% reduction in the survival rate of new brain cells.

5. Increases the risk of dementia

Compared with nondrinkers and light drinkers, moderate to heavy drinkers have a 57% higher risk of dementia. Drinking can literally make you lose your mind.

Although these findings paint a grim picture of alcohol’s impact on the brain, the effects don’t have to be permanent. You are not stuck with the brain you have. Brain imaging studies show that the brains of heavy drinkers and alcohol abusers have the potential for great improvement. Eliminating the booze and embracing a brain-healthy lifestyle are the keys to reversing alcohol’s damaging effects on the brain.

At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to help our patients see the effects alcohol has had on their brain. This is often a powerful first step to quitting alcohol or reducing consumption. We use an integrated brain-body approach to healing the brain that includes biological, psychological, social, and spiritual areas of your life. To learn more, call 888-288-9834 to talk to a specialist today or schedule a visit.

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  1. Sandra Grischenko says:

    I would love for my 30 year old daughter to receive
    Information about hypnosis for her alcohol addiction. She is so smart about other things but can’t see how her drinking effects her family .

    • Anne K. Ross says:

      I am an energy worker. I see, sense and understand that our issues are “not us.” I know this sounds odd but it is the truth. Our emotions are the link to open the door, should someone choose to be healed, and the blocks, sabotage and mutiny that we create ourselves, can be removed and we can heal. It’s up to the individual to want to be healed. In any healing when you are on the outside, take the first step yourself and look within to start your healing. When we start to heal ourselves, everyone else we know is affected positively by our actions, and ultimately, or own healing.

      • Amy G says:

        Are you referring to opening the door to the spirit realm? If so, it’s not “energy” , we need to call it what it is. Hypnosis can make things worse.

  2. Joy Steele says:

    Very informative article. How do we send this information to the young people starting their journey through college life to read and heed the message. We might gain a more productive generation rather than so many addicted adults.

  3. Barbara R. says:

    This report could be of great value if shown in Middle and high schools.. in addition to proper parental guidance and possibly could make students from ages 12-thru high school aware of the damages to their brains, thus causing poor study habits and inability to learn to their fullest capacities.

  4. Lorin Card says:

    I concur fundamentally. A lot of exercise and fresh air and proper eating habits help us keep the smart enzymes in our brain active. Everything noted in these studies are normal even without alcohol in those of us over 55. And being under the influence is detrimental in the long run but so is aging. However, everything we eat and do, including red meat and cell phones, is detrimental to our health. So, avoiding excess in living does actually help us stay healthier but moderation in all things is actually good for us. Flying in the face of Johns Hopkins research is the expression if it makes you happy, literally and figuratively, it can’t be that bad. And isn’t.

    • Kevin Ritchie says:

      Very well put Lorin. Moderation of many things in our daily lives is important for a long, healthy and FUN life. Enjoy your day!

    • karen says:

      So very true Lorin, balance it the key to life in my humble opinion. I thoroughly enjoy my red wine with my meal!! There is nothing wrong with this I am a yoga teacher and work out 6 days a week. I have many friends and love my life!!!

  5. Bern says:

    You can protest all you want about fun and how you enjoy your wine, but the bottom line is that alcohol causes brain cells to die EVERY TIME you consume any. Alcohol causes the blood cells to clump together, causing some of the tiny capillaries to plug up and stop the blood flow to a tiny piece of brain tissue. With no blood supply, the tissue dies. This is what causes the brain shrinkage. The more you drink, the more damage it causes. The less you drink, the less damage. But, like it or not, the bottom line is that it ALWAYS causes damage.

  6. Lillie Jane Owen says:

    So–if a person is diagnosed as schizophrenic in the first place(starting at age 18) and then becomes an alcoholic as well the persons brain has no healing available.

  7. Christine Murphy says:

    I am grateful to hear or rather read about yet another negative effect of my alcoholism thereby giving me even more reason to stay sober. I also suffer from mental illness, Bipolar 1, and have had one serious episode of schizophrenic delusions, hallucinations, and mania. I have been in inpatient treatment eighteen times, live in a sober living house today and am fifty one years of age. Thank you for reading my comments and any insights or recommendations would be greatly appreciated. God bless.


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